Live by Night is set in prohibition-era 1920s and casts Ben Affleck as small-time crook Joe Coughlin. He’s Irish and one of an Irish gang leader’s top guys. Not the brightest light bulb in the chandelier, Coughlin has an affair with the man’s mistress. That leads to a death sentence and the attention of an Italian mob leader.
Long story short, Coughlin ends up running the Italian’s Florida operation. A natural wheeler-dealer, Coughlin aligns himself with the local sheriff and makes piles of dough for the mob’s bootleg business by working closely with Cuban and African-American allies. The Ku Klux Klan doesn’t like that and causes Coughlin big trouble.
So does the sheriff’s daughter.
Affleck is Affleck. What you see is what you get. He’s helped a lot in Live by Night by excellent supporting performances from Sienna Miller’s (American Sniper) two-timing woman to Elle Fanning’s (Maleficent) born again daughter to Chris Messina’s (Argo) best-buddy and assistant henchman.
The film is co-written by Affleck and Dennis Lehane, who also penned the novel and the novels for Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone.
As a storyteller Affleck is good at picking projects. Argo was a great find, and he did a wonderful job of putting you on the edge of your seat and keeping you there. Gone Baby Gone did the same thing. Some of Live By Night’s early scenes do that, but the film doesn’t have that kind of built-in tension.
Another minor wart is a fairly predictable plot.
Live by Night is the first film Affleck has co-written and directed since picking up Oscars, Golden Globes and other awards for Argo in 2012. Like we saw in Argo and Gone Baby Gone, Affleck is a good storyteller wrapped in the body of a so-so actor.
Maybe directing and writing might be a better long-term career choice.
Live by Night
Director: Ben Affleck
Stars: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Dion Bartolo, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Clark Gregg, Anthony Michael Hall
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated R for violence, language, mature themes. It’s playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco & Queensgate 12s, Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.