‘Live by Night’: Ben Affleck gangster flick lacks punch

Live by Night
Screenshot from YouTube trailer for Warner Bros.' "Live by Night," starring Ben Affleck.

LOS ANGELES, January 17, 2017 — Hollywood star Ben Affleck delivers yet another American gangster movie to the genre with his recently released film “Live by Night.” Affleck both stars and directs this mobster flick. Adapting yet another Dennis LeHane novel for the silver screen, Affleck had previously directed “Gone Baby Gone,” the novel for which LeHane is perhaps best known.

Affleck’s tak on “Live by Night” delivers strong action and storytelling, but lacks the special spark of life and originality offered by his recent string of hits.

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In “Live by Night,” Affleck plays 1920s gangster Joe Coughlin, a man who desires not to be a gangster until he is forced into the role. The son of respected Boston police captain (Brendan Gleeson), Coughlin initially gains the attention of top gangsters in Tampa, after ripping off card games and robbing banks. He earns his wings by aligning himself with the Mafia and going to war against his former boss.

Eventually, despite initial misgivings, he wins at the long game and ends up controlling all the Tampa, Florida rackets for Italian crime boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone).

Affleck’s Coughlin spends much of his time in the wrong of town, where he is attracted to and falls in love with a Cuban woman (played by Zoe Saldana), who is focused on building shelters for women and immigrants.

Throughout the film, Coughlin pursues revenge on several of his previous mob bosses. In the process, he kills a Ku Klux Klan leader and also blames himself for the suicide of the town’s sheriff’s daughter.

“Live by Night” attempts to achieve the level of gangster storytelling originated by “The Godfather,” and later echoed in other crime classics like “Goodfellas.” Unfortunately, Affleck’s current effort lacks the solid, well-rounded depiction of gangster life so firmly established by this film’s iconic predecessors.

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Though still early in its debut run in movie theaters, “Live by Night” has failed to meet box office expectations, only raking in roughly $5.4 million during its nationwide release last weekend. That said, at least on the surface, this movie looks sleek and polished, glimmering with evocative period production designs by Jess Gonchor and surprisingly elegant portraiture by cinematographer Robert Richardson, who paints most scenes in a subdued monochromatic palette that heats up appropriately once the action travels south.

“Live by Night” is solid enough entertainment. But if cinema fans are expecting a 21st century addition to the treasure trove of American noir crime classics, this film isn’t it.

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