Live by Night
A story set in the Prohibition Era and centered around a group of individuals and their dealings in the world of organized crime.
A clear sign that LIVE BY NIGHT is a solid film is that it held up to multiple viewings. I am not even a fan of the traditional gangster-mafia flicks. All that wise guy business and funny suits never appealed to me. I can appreciate the art of the filmmaking but could not care less for the story and characters. This one however was different. Although it is cut from gangster cloth it never felt cliché or reworked. I enjoyed the style and valued its ability to engage with this genre snob.
Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a thug no doubt. He may not like associating with known gangsters but he sure acts like one. He prefers to fly solo and makes a pretty good name for himself. But a chain of events that include fooling around with a organized crime leader Albert White’s (Robert Glenister) girlfriend (Sienna Miller) lands him in a serious predicament; associating with gangsters.
The bulk of the film is set in south Florida during the age of prohibition and rum running. The cinematography captures the time and culture perfectly. You can feel the humidity and the itch of the zoot suit against your skin. Though Joe and his colleagues are criminals they blend in to the community as “respected” business men. The local police chief Figgis (Chris Cooper) is willing to look the other way on many of their antics as long as they follow a few parameters. Figgis has a great line in the film in which he says something like, Just because I associate with corruptible men do not think for a moment I can be corrupted. Or something close to that. I like the character of Figgis and he adds a strong element to the story.
We have seen Affleck in all sorts of roles. They have been memorable but not always for the right reason. Will he be praised as a gangster? Not by everyone. I personally enjoyed what he brought to the character. But again I am not the key demo. I sort of like my gangsters to be subtle, quiet, and a bit low key. This is a man trying to find himself and make a life. In fact I am not sure he likes being the heavy. But it is the life that has found him.
The story too is very strong. Based on the bestselling book by Dennis Lehane and adapted for the screen by Affleck this one brings many layers and not just a run and gun flick. The film is a tad over two hours long and fills each moment with action and character development; all ending in a head to head skirmish that rivals any gangster film before it. The downside to adapting from a book like this is trying to fit too much in. There are characters that pop up that you know were meaty and delicious in the book but in the film are presented as a side item. You can easily fill in the blank but part of you knows that there is so much more you don’t know.
It is rated R for strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. This is a bloody, violent film regardless of how low key Joe likes to live. If I had to place LIVE BY NIGHT in any award categories it would certainly be costume design, cinematography, and editing. That should let you know that even though it looks and moves nicely it isn’t a perfect film. There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of it but nothing monumental either. I give it 3 out of 5 Panama hats.