Film Review: LIVE BY NIGHT (USA 2016)

live_by_night_movie_poster.jpgDirected by Ben Affleck

Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper

Review by Gilbert Seah

Ben Afflecks’s fourth film (after ARGO, THE TOWN and GONE BABY GONE) is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane which like BURN,BABY, BURN is a novel that contains a lot of plot. But LIVE BY NIGHT contains too much plot dealing with as many issues as there are plot turns. Unfortunately, Affleck’s script is unable to cope and the film fails despite worthy efforts.

Set in the 1920s and 1930s, the story follows Joe Coughlin (Affleck), the prodigal son of a Boston police captain (Brendan Gleeson). Joe is a World War I veteran of Irish decent who is in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), mistress of the notorious gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister), the boss of the Irish Gang of Boston. Joe’s father disapproves of Emma. Joe and Emma decide to move to California escaping the wrath of White, but to their misfortune the head of Albert’s rival Italian Mafia Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) finds out about their affair and blackmails Joe to kill Albert. The story goes on, leading Joe to finally work for Maso and rising in the ranks. Success comes with a price with a lot of casualties in the process.

The best thing about LIVE BY NIGHT are its impeccable performances. Gleeson at his growling best, plays Joe’s chief of police, who unfortunately dies 20 minutes into the film. The gap, fortunately is filled by Chris Cooper as Irving Figgis, another chief of police, who is as pious as he is crazy. The other supporting cast members are uniformly good from Matthew Maher (as a creepy Ku Klax Klan member) and Anthony Michael Hall as an overconfident lackey for a crime boss.

Affleck’s script is all over the place and tries to handles too many issues like father/son relationship; romance; crime; good vs. evil; racism and loss of innocence just to name a few. The dialogue also includes a fair amount of ‘f’ words including the ‘mother f” words that are out of place in a film set in the roaring twenties.

The handsome mounted production from the vintage cars (in the robbery car chase) to the wardrobe, music and props make the film a memorable period piece. Affleck dresses himself very sharply, always in pressed white suits and hat.

As the story deals with war between crime families, LIVE BY NIGHT will inevitably be compared to Francis Ford Coppola’s GODFATHER films. Joe keeps his criminal activities from his wife, Gracilea (Zoe Saldana) reminiscent of how Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) hid his crime duties from his wife played by Diane Keaton. This is when one can detect the inferiority of of LIVE BY NIGHT. The power and bite are just not there.
LIVE BY NIGHT is well paced with a good speed in the first third of the film. The varying pace from the highly edited car chase to the slow paced meeting a a tea shop between Joe and Loretta Figgis (Elle Fannng)
The film also contains dialogue with heavy Irish accent (from Gleesona nd Miller) which is occasionally hard to understand.

The film could have done with some script doctoring. Affleck taking the co-producing, writing, directing and lead acting duties has obviously got his plate full in this $65 million production.



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