A Fallen World

Live By Night

Director: Ben Affleck

Cast: Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller, Chris Messina, Chris Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Remo Girone, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, Clark Gregg, Anthony Michael Hall

Oscar winner Ben Affleck (Argo, Good Will Hunting) approaches another passion project with the cinematic adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s riveting gangster novel Live By Night about the rise of Irish mobster Joe Coughlin.

Set in Prohibition era America in the mid 1920’s, Live By Night features Affleck as the main character as well as him adapting the screenplay and directing the film version. To his credit, Affleck assembles a fine cast including an unrecognizable Sienna Miller as the gangster’s moll with a strong Irish accent, Emma Gould who Coughlin first meets in Boston.

Also in the cast are Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) as Coughlin’s father Thomas who happens to be Boston police chief, Oscar winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation) as Tampa police chief Figgis, Elle Fanning (Trumbo, Maleficent) in a stand out role as a recovering heroin addict Loretta Figgis and Zoe Saldana as Cuban beauty Graciela whom Coughlin eventually falls in love with after he moves to Tampa, Florida after fleeing Boston.

If viewers have not read Lehane’s book they might find the film version of Live By Night drawn out with a screenplay which delivers but doesn’t elevate the film to such genre classics as The Untouchables, Casino or even Goodfella’s.

Whilst the gorgeous period production design of Live By Night can be applauded as well as some stunning sequences in Florida, where after the initial gloom of Boston, the film definitely brightens to show a much more diverse and fascinating world in the deep South, the overall effect of Live By Night is laboured but not exhilarating.

Personally I loved the film, but I had read the novel so knew ahead what was install.

Ben Affleck’s ambitious plans to write, direct and star in a big screen adaptation of the novel might fall short, although his effort in doing so is admirable. What does elevate Live By Night are the superb supporting cast including Sienna Miller who after Burnt and Foxcatcher has an ability to disappear into any screen role and certainly is one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood. Fanning as a bible preaching morally conflicted young woman comes across as sacrificial, yet her performance is brilliant despite the minimal screen time.

The best scenes in the film are between Affleck and Chris Messina who is wonderful as Coughlin’s best friend and crime partner, the wise cracking Dion Bartolo, a role which he played against type. It is refreshing to watch Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) play in a period film as the gorgeous Cuban business woman Graciela although her role in the film is not as detailed as it is in the novel.

What Affleck does successfully is portraying America as a Fallen World, where as prohibition ends, there is nothing left except repression, bigotry and violence. Live By Night is a gritty, stylish and violent gangster film similar to Gangster Squad but not as brilliant as Bugsy or Public Enemies.

Audiences should only see Live By Night if they are ardent fans of gangster films, a genre which is difficult to get right at the best of times. Despite Affleck’s talent as a director, he is no Martin Scorsese or Brian de Palma. Although his evocative visual efforts should be commended.

Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Gangster Squad.

 

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