Live by Night
dir-scr Ben Affleck
prd Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson, Jennifer Todd
with Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Chris Messina, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Max Casella, Remo Girone, Robert Glenister, Anthony Michael Hall, Clark Gregg
release US 25.Dec.16, UK 13.Jan.17
16/US Warner 2h08
Live by Night
Smoke and mirrors: Affleck and Miller

saldana messina fanning
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Live by Night Based on the Dennis Lehane novel, this Prohibition drama is a finely crafted film with strong performances. Vivid characters pack this complex story, and yet the movie struggles to capture the attention with its slow pace and lapses of cliched dialog and plotting. This means that the resonant themes seem to remain beneath the surface just out of grasp.

In late-20s Boston, war veteran Joe (Affleck) has turned to crime to survive, finding himself caught between the Irish and Italian mob bosses (Girone and Glenister). After being caught having an affair with the Irish mobster's moll (Miller), Joe ends up working for the Italians, taking over their rum-smuggling operation in Tampa, where he finds success running speak-easy clubs with his sidekick Dion (Messina). He finds a new woman (Saldana) and cooperates with the local police chief (Cooper), but there are forces both in the mafia and society that are unravelling his little empire.

Affleck directs the film with a beautiful Eastwood-esque sensibility, using a stylishly muted colour palette and large-scale settings. And the actors saunter through their scenes in a nicely unrushed fashion that builds an underlying sense of intrigue. On the other hand, this subdued approach leaves the film feeling both cold and mopey, never quite drawing out the emotions of the characters (Cooper's tormented father has his moments). This means that all of the interaction, including both of Joe's romances, feels undercooked despite the vivid acting.

Even with this underwhelming tone, there isn't a weak link in the cast. Each actor creates a strong character, adding vivid details along the way. But none of these people are engaging because they're all out of touch with reality in one way or another. There's also the problem that, aside from Affleck's Joe, each of them vanishes from the film for long periods of time, reappearing only when the plot needs him or her.

The robust cast and crew make sure every scene is intriguing and visually tantalising. But Affleck keeps everything rumbling without ever shifting up into a proper driving gear. There's one superb car chase in the first act and a wildly energetic final-act shootout, and everything else languishes amid some strange editing choices. But the real problem is that there never seems to be any subtext. This is a good-looking gangster movie with some lovely character touches and a few strongly staged set-pieces. And nothing more than that.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 9.Jan.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall