Live by Night, the latest film from the Affleck brother least complicated to be a fan of, tells the story of Joe Coughlin, a WWI veteran who falls somewhat tepidly into a life of crime. The plot is too overstuffed to provide a detailed synopsis of any kind but after spending time in prison, Joe (Affleck) runs heists in Boston before being sent to Florida by his crime boss at the time. Joe gets real busy real fast in Florida. He builds a crime empire, finds love, and befriends the Sheriff (Chris Cooper) with the help of a pal (Chris Messina). The Sheriff’s daughter (Elle Fanning) and the KKK are also involved. What is so unfortunate is that we are treated to little of the most compelling characters and get too much of Joe, who is not as interesting as Affleck wants him to be.
Affleck does it all here as he serves as writer, director, producer and lead actor (rumour has it he uncoiled extension cords for the lighting team as well) but despite his best efforts, Live by Night does not live up to his previously directed films. In terms of scope, this is by far Affleck’s most ambitious turn as a director but the gamble doesn’t quite pay off. However, give Batman credit for almost succeeding at making a political-gangster-crime-drama-romance that spans a couple decades, two locations, the depression, and prohibition. And damn, does this movie look cool.
The film is fun and intermittently engrossing but should have been more focused and actually could have made an excellent mini-series. Like so many near misses, there really is a lot to like here, including solid performances from an all-star cast and well-directed action sequences, but a strange mix of messiness and blandness keeps the film from becoming anything more than a routine piece of gangster crime fiction.