Once upon a time, (thanks to movies like Gigli) Ben Affleck’s name didn’t garner many positive vibes. Then, along came The Town and Argo and just like that, ole’ Ben’s reputation for quality movie making was back to Good Will Hunting status. But reputations can only survive for so long before they have to be reinforced. And after the bad mojo created from Batman v Superman (most of it entirely not his fault), Mr. Affleck needed something to remind us that he is still one of the best filmmakers/actors.
Live By Night is the story of bootleggers in Florida during the time of American Prohibition. Affleck directs and stars as Joe Coughlin, the Boston born son of a Police chief (Brendan Gleeson) who is an outlaw by day. When his affair with an Irish mobster (Robert Glenister)’s girlfriend (Sienna Miller) lands him in hot water, Coughlin moves to Tampa, Florida with his partner (Chris Messina) to begin work bootlegging for the Italian mob. There, he meets his wife (Zoe Saldana), battles the Ku Klux Klan, and attempts to keep a Sheriff(Chris Cooper)’s preaching daughter (Elle Fanning) from ruining his organization’s plan to build the state’s first casino.
As you might be able to tell from the synopsis, the movie is filled with subplots. Clearly Affleck had ambition, but his film never seems to reach a consensus about what story it actually wants to tell or what point it wants to make. None of the subplots are uninteresting, but because things jump around so much and so often, it all feels like one big long mess that would’ve probably been better suited for an HBO mini-series.
Thankfully, the film isn’t a bore. The gangster action is exciting whenever it hits, but those moments don’t come as often as you think or want. In fact, for much of the movie, it feels more like a romance and a film about the political workings of bootlegging more than a gangster film. The lulls in action or intrigue are made less unfavorable by a few welcomed moments of wit, charm and humor from Affleck and a solid supporting cast. But at no point is any of it enough to fully justify the film’s poor pacing and sheer lack of focus.
FINAL GRADE: C, Redbox it