Live by Night

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Ben Affleck played Batman. It looks like when he wrote, directed, and starred in this…he was shooting for Dick Tracy. The fedoras, Tommy guns, and even the jaw. Unfortunately, there’s not much new you can do with the gangster pictures. Unfortunately this is also the worst of his directing efforts, which include Argo, The Town, and Gone Baby Gone. This film is adapted from the 2012 crime novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote The Town. That was Affleck’s debut behind the camera. In an interview, I heard Affleck say that Leonardo DiCaprio sent him the book and he immediately wanted to make this picture (DiCaprio is one of the producers).

The period settings, costumes, and set pieces are impressive. The picture is handsomely shot. There’s a lot in the dialogue that works well. It’s unfortunate that so much of this picture is disjointed.

Affleck plays Joe Coughlin. He’s a World War I vet who robs banks and card games that the Italian mob is putting on. This frustrates his dad Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), who is a Boston police captain. It’s also upsetting to him that he’s running around town with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). That’s because she’s the mistress of Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister). My wife and I each wondered — why is he out in public with her? Of course, a few scenes later, we find out. It’s so the Italian mob boss can threaten to expose this affair unless he works for him.

Since this is the days of prohibition, Joe ends up working with the Italians, and runs the rum business very successfully. Emma is out of the picture, as she was forced to throw Joe under the bus. That lead him to a long hospital stay for him, and an even longer stay in the clink. It’s easy enough to forget about her when you’re working with Cuban club proprietor Graciella Suarez (Zoe Saldana). They quickly fall in love, but that brings some troubles from the KKK.

A lot of the supporting work in this movie is fun. Joe’s buddy Dion Bartolo is played by Chris Messina, and he has some good lines. There’s the always reliable Chris Cooper as a crooked cop. Yet his story gets a bit ridiculous when he can’t seem to reign in his crazy, racist brother-in-law. His daughter Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning), wants to try and make it in Hollywood. This leads to something that enables Joe to blackmail him, and at about that point, things really go off the rails.

The first part of the movie has some fun car chases and fight scenes, and although things slow down when the story moves to Florida — it’s still got some interesting things going on.

There’s stuff in this movie that sometimes works. The first few scenes with Chris Cooper are dynamite. Listening to Brendan Gleeson try to shake down Clark Gregg to give his son a shorter sentence. Gregg says, “I’ll see what I can do.” Gleeson, with that powerful presence he has, replies, “‘Seeing’ is of very little interest to me.”

The third act of this film wasn’t very good, and you start wishing it would’ve ended 20 minutes earlier (it’s over two hours long). And although there’s a lot of generic gangster stuff, there’s also some entertaining things, too.

I can’t give it more than 2 stars out of 5, though.