Alcohol kills. Literally.
It’s the 1920’s in Boston and Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) wants to make a name for himself, and get out of the shadow of his father (Brendan Gleeson), a Boston police captain. By doing that, he starts robbing banks and taking out local gangsters, getting his name more known, of course, but also putting him on a lot of people’s radars. Eventually though, once Joe does his time in the slammer and gets out, it’s the 1930’s and more people want to get drunker than ever before. What ends up happening is that Joe gets sent to Tampa, where he and his best buddy (Chris Messina), will watch over rum-business, make sure people are drinking it, buying it, and not trying to start any scuffles. However, when you’re a bootlegger, things aren’t always going to go as planned and when you’re with a lovely lady, like Graciella (Zoe Saldana), you’re going to continue to have issues – not just with racist locals, but sometimes, even with your own bosses. This is something that Joe realizes right away and has to start acting quickly, or else he, as well as everyone else that he loves, may soon be killed.
Live By Night isn’t nearly the disaster, or awful train-wreck, so many have been calling it. If anything, it’s just a sure sign that Ben Affleck, like many other great directors/actors/writers/artists/human beings before him, is capable of giving up, admitting defeat, and being a disappointment. Sure, say what you want about his acting resume, as a director, Affleck has rallied-up an impressive roster behind the camera; Gone Baby Gone, the Town, and Argo are all pretty great movies, highlighting that Affleck knows what it takes to make a solid, exciting and compelling piece of film. Are they all perfect? Nope, of course not, but they get a lot more right, than they don’t.
And there’s the ugly stepchild known as Live By Night, that shows Affleck’s directing skills that he continuously building on and on as the years and projects have gone by, perhaps, came back to stab him in the back a little bit. But what’s odd about Live By Night is that it’s not a bad movie because of what Affleck does, it’s more of what he doesn’t do, or better yet, include.
For instance, Denis Lehane’s book could probably be adapted into some sort of miniseries, let alone, its own show altogether.
There’s a lot of subplots, relationships, characters, ideas, and messages toggled around with here, some of which are very interesting to watch and see how they play-out, but unfortunately, they’re all packaged within a movie that’s just a little over two hours, not allowing for there to be enough time and attention devoted to ensuring that each and everyone of these points gets the eyes that they deserve. Don’t believe me? Well, take for example, halfway through the flick, our lead protagonist, Joe Coughlin, goes to prison for what seems like a pretty heavy sentence and then, in the next scene, he’s out and ready to continue on with the rest of his life.
But there’s more of that going on here. Certain characters pop in and out, who are supposed to have some sort of overall meaning to Coughlin, his life, and his work, but for some reason, they are harped on for about ten to fifteen minutes, forgotten about and never to be heard from again. It’s odd, because it seems like Affleck himself knows that he’s got a lot on his plate and seems like he has an eye for this period’s detail and style, but it never quite translates to the story. It feels too jumbled, messy and sporadic, as if it’s not ever safe to get too attached or involved with one major plot-point or character, because they next scene, it/they could all be gone.
Which isn’t to get past the fact that Live By Night is an entertaining movie, it’s just sometimes too random for its own good.
It’s a shame, too, because Affleck shows that he can still direct a somewhat compelling movie, all obvious issues aside. There’s a few gun-battles that are tense and fun, there’s a car-chase sequence that’s well-staged, and yeah, there’s even some compelling moments involved with Coughlin and how exactly he runs this rum-business. But like I said, there’s probably six or seven hours worth of material, all cut-up, jumbled and put together in a two-hour piece, that also feels like it’s trying hard to get everything out there, but doesn’t know how to package it correctly.
Even the ensemble, as talented as some of these people may be, don’t always get-off quite easy. Affleck is fine as our lead, although never quite as magnetic as he should have been; Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller are sultry and sexy, but that’s about it; Elle Fanning’s character has an interesting complex, but it ends on such a silly note that it’s easy to forget about her; a porky and relatively plump Chris Messina shows up as Coughlin’s cousin/go-to man who feels like he deserved so much more attention than he got; Brendan Gleeson shows up as Coughlin’s very Irish dad and feels like he wandered off the set of Assassin’s Creed and thought about collecting a nice paycheck; and Chris Cooper, despite trying very hard as the town’s preacher, oddly enough, gets a whole lot to do, then leave in such a manner that feels rushed and a total betrayal of the character himself.
Oh well. At least Miguel’s in it for about five minutes.
Consensus: With so much going on and to explore, Live By Night can’t help but feel like a jumbled-up mess, albeit, one with a great look and feel to it, that occasionally stirs some sort of emotion resembling excitement.
6 / 10