Director: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper
Runtime: 129 Minutes
Squeezed into the busy production schedule of our current cinematic Batman, Ben Affleck’s Live by Night feels like it has suffered greatly from a lack of the focus and attention which made his previous efforts so much more compelling.
The main issue here is that the film is based the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, which concerns the life of morally upstanding criminal Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) in a sprawling prohibition gangster drama, which unfolds in Boston and Florida and chronicles the gang war between the Irish and Italian mafia. The storyline itself is ripe for some form of cinematic adaptation, yet the efforts come up depressingly short at trying to form something cohesive out of its extensive narrative of different characters, conflicts and environments.
The film changes gears into different storylines at will without a great deal of attention, closing in on different things from racial violence, mob rule, paternal struggles and then religious coercion with little forewarning or consequence. It feels as though the film has been heavily cut down in the editing department from whatever it previously was – for instance, an entire storyline involving a character played by Scott Eastwood is omitted even though he is occasionally referenced. There’s also a droning and choppy narration from Affleck that’s overlaid to fill in the gaps, and feels like something of an afterthought that doesn’t fit with the aesthetic.
Affleck is decent in the lead role, and his skills as a director are still strong, which only makes it all the more baffling that nothing is as engaging as it should be. The supporting cast of Sienna Miller, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson and Zoe Saldana are all expectedly delivering well, and Elle Fanning is breathtaking in her appearance as the converted gospel preacher who opposes his sinful ideals. The cinematography is very pretty, the action scenes are well-done and the production design of the film is rather sumptuous; even if the over exaggerated nature of Affleck’s costumes fails to disguise his preposterous frame, the same can thankfully not be said of the rest of the cast.
It’s a shame to say that Live by Night falls down because of an unremarkable story and structure, because the technical aspects are all that keep it entertaining.