LIVE BY NIGHT
Direction: Ben Affleck
Actors: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller
Rating: 4 / 5
Ben Affleck has been the butt of many jokes for his choice of roles (think Gigli, and Daredevil). But as a director, he’s a different man. Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo all won him considerable credit, and he even snagged an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay with co-star Matt Damon, for his work on Good Will Hunting (1997).
He continues that stellar streak with Live By Night, even evoking comparisons with master Clint Eastwood this time around.
Set in Prohibition-era America in the 1920s, Live By Night is based on the pulp fiction novel of the same name, by Bostonian author Dennis Lehane.
Affleck casts himself as the lead, a petty gangster whose rapid rise to power finds him relocating from the mean streets of Boston to the steamy underworld of Florida. Attributing his anti-authority attitude to a brief stint in the Great War, he asserts, “I left as a soldier but I came back as an outlaw.”
Affleck balances the labyrinthine plot with pulse-quickening suspense and vivid production design. His rough-and-tumble action set pieces are impressive, including a number of shootouts, bombings, car chases and a bravura opening poker game heist.
The rum-running Irish hood’s path crisscrosses with those of several beautiful women, among them a mobster’s moll (Sienna Miller), a Cuban senorita (Saldana) with links to the molasses shipments, and a born-again evangelist (Elle Fanning). The twists and turns in the narrative also involve encounters with members of the notorious Ku Klux Klan and other religious zealots.
After an explosive climactic gangland massacre, the narrative winds down in an unexpectedly poignant resolution.
The film is uniformly well-cast, with standout supporting performances by Brendan Gleeson as the anti-hero’s policeman father, and Chris Cooper as the ‘incorruptible’ local sheriff.
A throwback to a well-worn genre, Live By Night does recall vintage gangster flicks like The Public Enemy and White Heat, but also stands on its own terms as a crackerjack crime caper.
Watch the trailer for Live By Night here