A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.
Live by Night centers on the complicated machinations of Boston hoodlum Joe Coughlin (Affleck) whose small time banditry captures the attention of rival mob bosses. While Joe is Irish (and the son of a police constable), his sympathies lie more or less with Italian mob boss Maso Pescatore (Girone). He further endears himself to Pescatore after Irish mob boss Albert White (Glenister) kills Coughlin's lover (Miller) and nearly kills him if not for the interference of Boston's finest. After a stint in jail, Joe vows revenge by administrating Pescatore's interests in Tampa while choking White and his crew out of the rum trade. While doing so, Joe falls in love with a local crime bosses sister (Saldana), truces with Tampa's Police Chief (Cooper) and receives the ire of the local KKK.
Live by Night, for all its good intentions, has all the focus of a barrel of buckshot. It sprays its themes in every which way desperately hoping the audience will connect the dots with extended periods of voice over narration. When we're not forced to listen to Affleck's gravelly voiced monologues, we get to experience the actor himself, who uneasily takes the limelight by wearing his wardrobe with the color symbolism of a mood ring.
The tragedy is as a proved actor and director, Affleck should have been able to take this kind of material and make it shine like a fifty cent piece. But due to maybe the vastness of the material (or maybe Warner Bros. penchant for meddling), Affleck just seems unsure of himself both in front and behind the camera. Each scene is caked with exciting period detail yet there's no pulse, no bustle, not vibrancy to everything that's put on the screen. There are a lot of good moments in the film (many provided by Matthew Maher's deep fried racist nincompoop), but because there's such a lack of focus or tension, each moment happens in a vacuum and slowly suffocates in the void.
Live by Night feels like three great seasons of a decent cable show that's been chopped up and awkwardly smooshed together to make a highlights reel. Just like the skeleton of the casino that's being built in this film, everywhere you look there are hints of grandeur. Unfortunately that grandeur never comes and all you're left with is a great looking structure that's quickly sinking in a swamp of molasses.
- Jan 16, 2017