Live By Night



13 January 2017| No Comments on Live By Night     by Sean Chavel


The only reason to see it is to see how awful an actor Ben Affleck can sometimes be (and he was recently great in “Gone Girl,” and I mean that). Affleck also directed Live By Night – it has passion project plastered all over it in its attempt to be an ambitious Prohibition Era gangster picture – and it is his first failure after his first three impressive efforts behind the camera. His last effort “Argo” even won the Oscar. This gangster pic is a completely airless and tension-free epic, with a silly number of scenes of Affleck’s character Joe Coughlin having sit-down meetings where he has to negotiate this dirty rival mobster or that dirty politician. I was doing a lot of groaning as I’d seen one type of scene like this, then three minutes later, see another scene just like it. Oh please, spare me all this boilerplate talk.

The reason why “Live By Night” essentially fails is because Affleck spends the entire picture trying to make Joe Coughlin a good guy. There are complex gangster pictures, like “The Godfather Part II” where Michael Corleone pledges at the beginning that he wants to move the family business out of criminal rackets and venture into completely legitimate enterprises. Affleck is trying to do something revisionist, or something, but it is laughable that his character is this softie who got vacuumed into the mobster life and scrupulously wants to be the good guy in all of it. And get out eventually. “The Town” was terrific, because you felt Affleck was self-aware that he was a louse that had problems changing who he was on the inside. Joe has no inner demons and he seems to think he knows better than everybody else. That’s some miraculous 1928 wisdom for ya.

Joe is so non-conformist that he even takes an African-American wife, which inevitably riles the KKK (is this supposed to be a provocative subplot?). The wife notably is played by Zoe Saldana, who has made a career commitment in starring in movies where she is a romantic dreamer in the first scene but somehow gets yet another series of scenes where she connotes pain, peevishishness or anguish in her following scenes.

For plot, Joe’s objective is to get a casino built in Tampa Bay at the end of Prohibition, but runs into a brick wall when a local preacher, played by a dainty Elle Fanning, gets the city to stonewall the project. Joe can’t knock her off, since he’s too sweet of a guy for that. As for Joe, he’s so square, I can’t believe he didn’t get knocked off in day one in the mobster life.

There are two particularly eye-catching action scenes in the movie that have a lot of machine gun dazzle. These would have been good action scenes had the rest of the movie around it was successfully dramatic. Guns go off, but you watch passively. Affleck is simply this do-gooder in an overly expensive spruced up cream suits that don’t fit his big beefy Rocky Balboa body (excuse me, I mean his Batman body), and he has a conscience and a moral code and all that, but what the movie doesn’t have is a shred of believability.

And in the final scenes, somebody important to Joe seems to enter into the line of fire of blazing bullets instead of back away from them. I’ve heard of ducking, dragging your loved one out, and all that protect your kin stuff, but this movie badly wants a martyr. If you’re watching the movie beginning to end, though, you’re the masochist.

127 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Little Caesar” (1931); “The Untouchables” (1987); “Miller’s Crossing” (1990); “Mobsters” (1991).

Live_By_Night_ Gangster_Movie-Dud

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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