Boston, 1926. The '20s are roaring. Liquor is flowing, bullets are flying, and one man sets out to make his mark on the world. Prohibition has given rise to an endless network of underground distilleries, speakeasies, gangsters, and corrupt cops. Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of a prominent Boston police captain, has long since turned his back on his strict and proper upbringing. Now having graduated from a childhood of petty theft to a career in the pay of the city's most fearsome mobsters, Joe enjoys the spoils, thrills, and notoriety of being an outlaw. But life on the dark side carries a heavy price. In a time when ruthless men of ambition, armed with cash, illegal booze, and guns, battle for control, no one-neither family nor friend, enemy nor lover-can be trusted. Beyond money and power, even the threat of prison, one fate seems most likely for men like Joe: an early death. But until that day, he and his friends are determined to live life to the hilt. Joe embarks on a dizzying... Written by
Producer, director, writer and lead actor: Ben Affleck.
Let's look at those contributions one by one.
Producer. The film looks good. There's an expert team on both sides of the camera. But there's a problem with length. Also, it feels as though the adaptation from Dennis Lehane's novel has not sufficiently transformed what was on the page into cinematic story-telling.
Director. There are excellent action sequences, such as an exciting car-chase and a final shoot-out. As a director of actors Mr Affleck is strong: he elicits particularly striking work from Chris Messina, Elle Fanning, Remo Girone and Sienna Miller. Within scenes there's a reassuring sense of control of pace. But overall, there is a sense of the director being in thrall to the screenplay.
Writer. This is the weakest link. It feels in awe of its source material. I read that an entire strand of the book was removed for the purposes of the film, but this was not enough. The producer and/or the director needed to tell the writer to put it through another draft. Or put it in its current form on Netflix as a two-part drama.
Lead actor. A matter of taste, I guess. Mr Affleck's persona is always of a handsome man who knows he's handsome, and who is very pleased with himself about it. I find this insufferable in large doses. And there is a very large dose of it here. Mr Affleck's performances lack depth -- compare and contrast those of this amazing brother Casey. As far as I'm concerned, Mr B. Affleck is more a male model than an actor: in James Bond terms, he's a George Lazenby rather than a Daniel Craig. His best film performance is his self-parodying turn in 'SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE'. In LIVE BY NIGHT he is serviceable, nothing more. His director clearly couldn't get anything else out of him.
It's instructive to compare Ben Affleck to Clint Eastwood, who also has a limited -- maybe even more limited -- range as an actor. But Eastwood the director usually casts Eastwood the actor brilliantly. DIRTY HARRY, UNFORGIVEN,GRAN TORINO etc: who could be better? By contrast, there are many young actors who could have played the lead in LIVE BY NIGHT, and many writers who could have delivered a better screenplay, especially when guided by a strong producer and director. Time will tell whether Ben Affleck is as good in those last two departments as ARGO suggested he might be. The promise he showed in those areas in that film is not in evidence here.
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