Ben Affleck has had a positive go of it throughout his short directing career. Obvious successes include Gone Baby Gone in which he directed younger brother, Casey, and Argo which was crowned Best Picture at the Academy Awards back in 2012. By now it’s clear to see that Affleck is a very capable director, yet his latest venture, Live By Night, based on Dennis Lehane’s 1920’s gangster novel, is an unremarkable dud on his otherwise prolific career behind the camera.
Starring in as well as directing, Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, a petty criminal in Boston during the Prohibition Era, evading the gangster life but instead carrying out robberies and holdups with the assistance of girlfriend Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). However, due to certain circumstances, he finds himself in Florida, gradually shifting into the gangster world, building his own empire based around the rum business, working with everyone from every race and background. As a result, he forms a list of enemies, including the Klu Klux Klan and converted daughter of Chris Cooper’s under-the-radar cop with whom to struggles to overcome due to the high pressures of the people above him.
Since its release, Live By Night hasn’t had the strongest of responses. This perhaps is more or less down to expectations following previous successes with its director. That said, there’s plenty of talent on show in the movie – Affleck of course behind the camera, with Miller and Cooper in front of him alongside the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning and Matthew Maher. All give strong cameo performances, when in fact Affleck is the least enterprising of them all. The movie looks stylish and carries a particular swagger, and it’s clear that much of the budget contributed towards the costume and set design. In fact this is Affleck’s most expensive film to date by far and it is a shame therefore that it could only produce this dull, flat adaptation which is disappointing when you consider all the ingredients that Affleck had to conjure with.
The movie continually hints at breaking through into something special but it lacks that certain grit to make it any different to previous gangster flicks. It’s not a terrible movie, but Live By Night is a movie that will go under the radar and pass by quickly which is a unfortunate given Affleck’s track record behind the camera.