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Live By Night - DVD Review

Live By Night

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

BEN Affleck launched his directorial career with a brilliantly realised adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel Gone Baby Gone. He returns to the author for his fourth film, the ambitious Prohibition-era gangster drama Live By Night with mixed results.

Impressive to look at and boasting some fine set pieces, the film nevertheless struggles to engage on an emotional level, with the sprawling story appearing too episodic to allow key characters to register the sort of human connection that Affleck was doubtless seeking.

Disillusioned by his experiences of fighting in World War I, cop’s son Joe Coughlin (played by Affleck) decides to live by his own rules and operates as a small-time hood in Boston.

But after falling foul of Irish gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister), following an ill-advised affair with his Irish moll Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), he ends up working for the Mafia in Tampa, Florida, driven by revenge and an ambition to set up a legalised gambling establishment.

As he rises, so too do the challenges he faces, whether in the form of the Ku Klux Klan, Christian fanatics, corrupt police chiefs or his own bosses and former enemies.

With so much to cram into the movie, it’s perhaps not a surprise that Affleck struggles to make everything count. Hence, potentially interesting plot turns are all too quickly resolved, while characters that warrant greater screen time are too quickly discarded.

This rings particularly true – early on – for Brendan Gleeson’s police chief (and Affleck’s father), whose scenes are terrific. The Irish actor conveys so much in such a short time that the film feels genuinely weakened by his departure.

But the same can be said for Chris Messina’s right-hand man, who engages only briefly; Chris Cooper’s complex lawman (who is painted in too broad strokes), Matthew Maher’s Klan heavy (who shakes things up all too briefly) and even Zoe Saldana’s love interest, whose story arc and resolution is under-served by the lack of screen presence she is afforded.

That’s not to say that Live By Night is a disaster, nor anywhere near as bad as its lacklustre box office suggests. There are some impressive sequences, including an early car chase involving Model T Fords and a climactic shoot-out. Nods to other genre movies are also well judged, with everything from The Godfather to Scarface and Road To Perdition referenced (in keeping with Affleck’s desire to pay homage to the gangster films of old).

It’s just that Live By Night feels much, much less than the sum of its parts. For Affleck, it’s his least successful movie, following the far better crime drama The Town and his Oscar-winning Argo. While Lehane’s other literary works have also delivered screen classics such as Mystic River and Shutter Island.

Live By Night struggles to get anywhere close to that kind of status and ends up feeling like a missed opportunity. It’s a solid genre piece when it could have rated so much higher.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 13mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: May 22, 2017