LIVE BY NIGHT review by Ronnie Malik – Ben Affleck helms a period piece gangster drama


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Director: Ben Affleck

Cast: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Remo Girone, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Glenister, Matthew Maher, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Miguel, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, Clark Gregg, Anthony Michael Hall, Chris Sullivan, B.C. Halifax, Derek Mears

Rating: C+

Director Ben Affleck, making his fourth film, has put together a sleek looking film based on a novel by Dennis Lehane.  Set in the 1920s and 30s, Affleck also stars in the film that has all the elements needed for a blockbuster.  Ambition, corruption, power, tragedy and social awareness are just a few of the themes woven together in LIVE BY NIGHT.  With a mishmash of storylines that could create a heck of a gangster story, the end result runs a bit too long and doesn’t quite make it as a gripping crime drama.

The story opens with Joe (Ben Affleck) providing  a narrative of his time as a disillusioned World War I soldier that will never take orders from those in power again. He returns from the battlefields of France to become an outlaw of sorts. Keeping company with some local thieves, Joe and his gang rob by night, sleep by day, and enjoy life living on their own terms.  But when Joe gets involved with Emma (Sienna Miller), the mistress of mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister), he enters into forbidden territory which causes a big turning point in his life. Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), Joe’s father who is an honest upstanding Boston-Irish cop, tries to warn his son of the danger zone he is entering by involving himself with a woman who belongs to a notorious criminal.  Ignoring his father’s advice lands Joe in the hospital badly beaten, receiving news that his lady love has been killed by White, and notified that he is on his way to jail.

Three years later Joe is released from prison. He seeks out an alliance with Italian mobster Maso Pescatore (Remo Gironne), a bitter enemy of White. Pescatore is building a rum empire in Florida where it just so happens – White is also pursuing his share of the lucrative market.  Joe commits to Pescatore that he will build a successful business for him but in exchange Joe gets to take his revenge on White for killing Emma.

Settling into a new life in Tampa, Joe catches the eye of beautiful Cuban business woman Garciela (Zoe Saldana) and the two create and alliance built on love. His relationship with the dark skinned beauty draws attention from the notorious KKK, a group that is not too happy about Joe’s involvement with the non-white community.  He also cohorts with local lawmaker Chief Figgis (Chris Messina) to take over parts of Tampa as long as he stays out of areas that the chief deems untouchable. Things take an odd and interesting turn when the police officer’s daughter, Loretta (Elle Fanning), returns from Los Angeles. The Angelic looking young girl, who dresses in Virginal white, becomes a famous female preacher condemning the sinful acts of those entering Tampa and ruining life for the natives. It is her influence over the local town’s people that will affect the future of Joe’s empire.

Much of the film is spent following Joe taking on enemies like the mob, KKK, and religious fanatics. In the midst of all issues Joe is dealing with to protect what he has built he suddenly develops a social consciousness. With so many different tracks to follow, Live by Night never gets enough time to develop anyone storyline. The movie winds up being a messy production and the ending plot twists leading to the final climax just falls apart.

Affleck looks a bit awkward in over-sized boxy suites and some of his speeches that should be full of energy fall flat.  The seasoned actor is playing a man full of passion that lives by his own rules but sadly Affleck comes across rather lifeless.  In their supporting roles Fanning, Cooper, and Miller all bring energy which will leave audiences wanting more but none of the actors get enough screen time to really develop and explore their characters. Saldana does a reasonable job as the Cuban immigrant in love with her American gangster but for the most part she is just in the movie for show.

The film is a visually polished sophisticated film. Beautiful outfits for the ladies depicting the glamour of the 20s and 30s make for some visual candy. Shiny cars in good ole fashion car chases are fun to watch and the cinematography shifting from old Boston to the developing city of Tampa make for some nice scenery.

LIVE BY NIGHT is not a terrible film it just doesn’t stand up to mobster films of the past like The Godfather, The Untouchables, or The Departed – just a few examples of amazing crime dramas displaying gritty action packed stories that can be watched many times over.  This latest endeavor by Affleck has enough going on to keep moviegoers entertained but will not create a lasting memory for those watching.

LIVE BY NIGHT opens January 13th, 2017

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