“You realize to be free in this life, breaking the rules meant nothing. You have to be strong enough to make your own.”
America has a whole lotta of eras it could choose to set a film in. Each era full of evocative dangers and delights to entertain the masses. The 1920s Prohibition era is one of the more frequently utilised but with good reason – this was a post-war era where money was good, fun was to be had, alcohol was illegal therefore far more tempting and gangsters unquestionably ruled the streets. As time has passed much of the truth has mixed with folklore and telltales yet the compelling hedonism of the era continues to draw us back. The element of hindsight also plays its – the America of then never knew it had it so good and had no idea of the trauma that would come in 1929… All of that makes for a screenwriter’s dream with so many tropes and tales to play around with – so how on earth did Ben Affleck make that boring?
‘Live By Night’ manages to drift along its long (128 minute) running time with saying little and entertaining even less. This was an era of big, bold and brassy – adjectives which have no relation to this movie. Take the recently released ‘Goodfellas’ (click here for my review) for comparison purposes. Both are about gangsters and explore the nature of the anti-hero. The outcomes are very different. Where as ‘Goodfellas’ explores the complexities and moral quandaries which arise with such criminal doings ‘Live By Night’ expects us to root for Joe Coughlin (Affleck) with little rhyme or reason. He’s not charismatic or interesting, he’s adequate at his job to an extent that achieves little interest and ends up being, alarmingly, the only three dimensional character. Like the worst kind of video game the rest of the cast remain barely sketched out archetypes who only serve the mediocre main character.
The film takes place over a number of years – plodding along from one situation to the next. It really doesn’t help that our villain isn’t that memorable, reinforcing yet again that Hollywood appears to be having trouble lately creating imposing bad guys (possibly because the baddest of them all is being inaugurated as President tomorrow..) There’s an overwhelming sense here that Affleck & co. wanted to create the latest legendary prohibition movie- a mythical tale of deeds & dames. They didn’t.
Dir: Ben Affleck
Year: 2017 Run time:128 minutes
Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Glenister, Matthew Maher, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper.