Review: Live by Night

After winning the Oscar for Best Picture for his film Argo, Ben Affleck is finally back in the director’s chair again. And he’s gone back to his directing roots, if you will, adapting another Dennis Lehane novel (Gone, Baby, Gone was also a Lehane book).

The film follows Joe Coughlin, played by Affleck, a war veteran who has turned to robbery as a way of supporting himself. When he’s approached by an Italian mob boss named Pescatore to take out the opposing mob boss, Albert White, he declines and says he doesn’t want to be owned by anyone (and he’s not a fan of killing people). Joe’s also in love with Emma, played by Sienna Miller, who just happens to be White’s girlfriend. After a robbery goes south, he tries to get Emma so they can both leave town, but Emma’s mob boss boyfriend has found out about the two of them and gives Joe the beating of his life. Joe’s dad happens to be a police captain and saves him from being murdered although has no choice but to send him off to jail for the robbery (which also resulted in the death of a cop or two).

Once he’s out, believing that Emma is dead, he approaches the Italian mob boss and says he’ll work for him as long as he can kill White. The mob boss says sure and sends him down to Florida to take over his dealings down there. Joe goes, he does well, and he meets Zoe Saldana’s character Graciela.

If the plot seems a little convoluted, it’s because it is. Live by Night’s slow pace and overly complicated plot are its biggest weaknesses. The acting is good, however, with Affleck playing Coughlin as someone who isn’t happy with how his life has turned out but doesn’t see an alternative. He’s conflicted about the terrible things he does but he also doesn’t see himself making an honest living. Zoe Saldana does a good job with what she’s given, which unfortunately isn’t a whole lot. Chris Messina plays Coughlin’s right hand man and he’s great in the part. Titus Welliver is in this film (he’s been in every Affleck directed movie so far) but I missed him. The credits said he played Tim Hickey but I don’t know who that character was and I don’t recall seeing him on screen. Chris Cooper also shines as the police captain in Florida, who doesn’t mind turning a blind eye as long as certain dealings happen within certain areas.

Overall, Live by Night is a decent movie but we’ve all come to expect more than decent from Ben Affleck. Here’s hoping his Batman film packs more of a punch.

I give it a B-

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