STARRING: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Robert Glenister, Titus Welliver, Remo Girone, Max Casella, Miguel, Gianfranco Terrin, Anthony Michael Hall, Chris Sullivan, Derek Mears, J.D Evermore and Clark Gregg
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 is set in the 1920’s, focusing on a man named Joe Coughlin living in Boston. A World War I veteran and son of a Boston Police Captain, Joe’s criminal activities and forbidden love puts him on the radar of Italian mob boss Maso Pescatore. When Joe volunteers his services to Pescatore, he is recruited as an enforcer for Pescatore’s rum empire in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida.
Live By Night is the latest Ben Affleck directed feature and the second adapting a Dennis Lehane novel (the previous being Gone Baby Gone). We’re transported back to the 1920’s where we follow War veteran of Irish descent and outlaw Joe Coughlin and how he gets caught up in the criminal empire run by Maso Pescatore.
The direction from Affleck with this period piece is stylishly done, whenever he focuses on a car chase or a shootout sequence it is very well structured together. The Joe Coughlin character is an interesting figure to follow on this journey as a man that doesn’t want to get dragged into the criminal underworld by working for a figurehead and slowly but surely he gets pulled into it and we get to witness just how cruel Joe can be in order to survive it. The cinematography from Robert Richardson is great especially when he captures the Tampa landscape, the costume design from Jacqueline West is also good as is the production design by Jess Gonchor. Towards the final act I will say that I enjoyed that Coughlin does come up against opposition in devout Christian Loretta Figgis when he attempts to get gambling legalised for a Casino in the area. Even with the limited screentime that she has, Elle Fanning’s character is the only other character outside of Coughlin that has an arc and I thought Fanning played the role really well and I very much enjoyed the scene she shares with Affleck in the restaurant.
While the sets, costumes and direction is good, the film primarily fails due to the story. While it tries to develop two different romance arcs, both involving Affleck, I couldn’t get connected or care for either of them as Sienna Miller’s Emma Gould and Zoe Saldana’s Graciela Corrales are underdeveloped as characters (though the latter has more screentime). When it comes to character development, only Affleck’s Coughlin and Fanning’s Loretta come out with any and with the amount of characters that appear in the film that’s a disappointment. For a crime period piece, not once did I feel any dread for Joe Coughlin as once he comes up against confrontation/opposition, the film moves quickly past it rather than let it sink into it to create tension. As the film has good moments in its runtime, the middle act moves at such a slow pace it feels like it drags the film down for me.
While the film looks authentic and the direction from Affleck is solid, the story is one that didn’t have me invested with at all after a decent start and a decent ending, the middle just went on far too long to get us from A to B. Unfortunately very few characters get developed outside of Affleck’s Coughlin and Fanning’s Loretta though there is still solid performances to be found with Chris Messina, Chris Cooper and Remo Girone. 5/10