Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's novel Gone Baby Gone, and he now returns to the author to adapt this Prohibition-era gangster drama. It's a big, beefy story with colourful characters and a snaky, expansive plot. And it's beautifully assembled by a skilled cast and crew. Even so, the film never quite generates quite enough energy to engage properly with the audience.
In 1927 Boston, Joe (Affleck) is a war veteran who has turned to crime to survive. But problems arise when he launches a torrid affair with the moll (Sienna Miller) of the Irish mob boss (Robert Glenister). With his life in danger, he turns to the rival Italian mafioso (Remo Girone) for a job, and is sent to Tampa to run their rum-smuggling operation. Working with his pal Dion (Chris Messina), Joe makes a success of a string of speak-easy bars and finds love with a the sister (Zoe Saldana) of a Cuban gangster. Then as he plans to open a huge casino, his gentlemanly agreement with the local police chief (Chris Cooper) is threatened. And it doesn't help that the boss in Boston begins to meddle.
Everything is assembled with a sumptuous sense of style, from the cool cars to the epic suits and hats. The film looks gorgeous, shot with muted colours that echo the subdued emotions of people who never quite say what they think. Of course, this creates a big problem, because it leaves Affleck's Joe looking like a blank slate, intriguing to watch but impossible to sympathise with. Nothing feels properly developed, with romances that seem to exist for no real reason and business relationships that appear to be based on some sort of unexplained subterfuge. The most riveting element of the story is Joe's clash with the KKK, a powerfully bull-headed group that refuses to play by the usual mob rules.
Continue reading: Live By Night Review
Joe Coughlin was born and raised in a good family, his father was the police captain and they were a respected family in the neighbourhood. Joe was the dark horse and fell in with the wrong crowd from an influential age. It was 1920's and Joe and the rest of the Coughlin family lived in the thriving city of Boston. Joe constantly seemed to be pulling in a different direction to that of his father and mixed with some of the town's most feared bosses responsible for any number of crimes from running alcohol to robbery.
Caught in the middle of a war between mob bosses, Joe ends up ripping off the wrong guy in more than one way as he also steals his woman. Everything appears to be going for Joe and his small gang but their next heist is a chance too far and sees Joe being put in prison for robbery. Once again, Joe finds himself falling in with another powerful boss who offers him protection in prison - but at a cost.
With his eventual release, Joe moves to Florida to begin over seeing a rum smuggling operation but as Joe finds love he begins to realise that there's more to life than working on someone else's terms but perhaps he's too deeply connected to ever be able to give up the life he's made for himself.
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