Live By Night is Ben Affleck’s new gangster drama about a 1920s bootlegger who becomes a powerful gangster in Tampa. It is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane and is directed by, written by, and stars Ben Affleck.
Affleck plays Joe Coughlin a criminal of Irish descent who gets embroiled in the war between the Irish mob lead by Albert White (Robert Glenister), and the Italian mafia lead by Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone). It follows his rise to power in the Tampa area, as well as his desire for revenge after he is barely left with his life and White kills his girlfriend. He deals with the KKK, preachers, and rival mobs.
There is certainly the potential for a gangster epic here, but Affleck’s Screenplay plays more like a series of stories in Joe’s life that would be a better fit for a TV miniseries than film. The problem is that the stories just don’t flow well, instead feeling extremely episodic, rather than a single cinematic experience.
Affleck shows moments of the great directorial flare that made him such a success with his early films Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo. The final sequence is fantastic, as are some of the other individual parts within the film. But there are also large parts of the film that just drag.
The cast that the film has gathered is fantastic. Aside from Affleck there’s Brendon Gleason, Zoe Saldana, Robert Glenister, Elle Fanning, Chris Cooper, and Sienna Miller. The problem is that out side of Affleck’s character and his right hand man Chris Messina everyone else just feels like a bit part player. They appear in their little parts of the story, and maybe popping up elsewhere, but they often just fade into the background. There’s so long between Albert appearances in the film you forget about the whole revenge plot.
I think that there is a good story to be told in Live By Night. But it might have been better served as a miniseries rather than a film. It feels too much like a series of episodes, and doesn’t really hold the attention all the way through.