Live By Night is a strangely unsatisfying and yet mildly engrossing film coming from a director who hasn’t put a wrong foot forward till date as a director. Live By Night tells the story of Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) a man who is a gangster but doesn’t like being called one. He is happy stealing and being in love with a girl who is the mistress of one of the two biggest crime bosses of the city. As one of his robberies go awry resulting in police deaths and his affair with the boss’s mistress is discovered, Joe ends up in jail. Just out of Jail, Joe is recruited by Maso Pescatore, the Italian mob boss to run his business in Tampa during the prohibition times. Joe now has to contain with the Ku Klux Klan as he spreads his business and looks for revenge from Albert White, the mob boss who wrecked his love life and sent him to jail.
I kept watching this film with the expectation that something good would happen round the corner but as it went on and one and on, nothing shocking or startling really happened. There are some sensational action sequences, mostly gun fights and car chases that happens as a result of heightened tension and emotions and that I believe was one of the highest points of the film. Sans that, we had Ben Affleck as our leading man and he is always a great actor to look at. Here too, he oozes so much charm and poise that it is really difficult to take your eyes off him. He feels like a very divided man and that’s evident from the choices he makes. Some of those choices go on to shape his future.
The film’s setting and the era in which it unfolds is beautifully brought alive by the set design and the practical effects. It isn’t an easy film to envision and bring to life but Affleck does well to keep it closely rooted to reality atleast in terms of the technicalities. Elle Fanning has a smallish role as a preacher in which she makes quite an impact. I really never saw it coming. However, somehow her character was not developed as much as it should have been and that proves to be one of the misgivings of the film. Sienna Miller’s character too comes up with the same deficiencies but still, hers is a better-written role.
Live By Night felt like a confused film to me. Joe’s character gets into the Pescatore family to have his revenge against Albert White, the man whose mistress, his love Emma was and who condemned him to police incarceration and what seemed to be possible, caused the death of Emma. However, once in Tampa, Joe gets involved in the business more than his revenge. He always seems uber cool and laid back. Never for once do you feel his rage for White or anyone for that matter. A man vying for revenge for his love, falling for another woman almost instantly was another dampener. He does ruin Albert’s business but is never shown going after the man.
Once the business is set up, he is more concerned about staying on the path of business success and his new found love then going after Albert White and killing him off which was his prior agenda. The Ku Klux Klan bit in the middle was a fun part. I especially enjoyed the part involving the character RD played gleefully by Matthew Maher. They could have at least built on this part a bit more. Ironically, the film’s climax is not about an Albert White – Joe Coughlin showdown but instead, a full blown Mafia war wherein, Coughlin and his company take out the Pescatore family and Albert too.
Elle Fanning plays a character who Joe uses to get to a target and overpower her father. She, later on, goes all out after Joe’s operations in a manner that is hard to fathom but achieves unprecedented success before killing herself. Her character is another that could have been developed so much and would have added another dimension to the film but is not. Zoe Saldana plays Joe’s wife. She has very little to do apart from being kind hearted and look tense. Hers is an extremely cliché character that we have seen millions of times over the years.
The film is lacking a sense of urgency that a film of this type must have. The fact that the protagonist himself doesn’t care about his revenge, makes us not care about his story. Hence the film’s basic premise is brought down. Just as we start having fun with the Mafia operations that too are brought down by some enforced elements and the film is converted to a reason-less hotchpotch. I was really impressed by the action sequences and the overall look and feel of the film. It’s very authentic. But sadly the story and the treatment of the film is not even half as good as the film looks. If it was, Live By Night would be an instant classic.
Rating : 2.5/5 (2.5 out of 5 Stars)