Ben Affleck has presented a new-age take on a ’20s gangster movie in the film “Live by Night,” which he both stars in and directs.
As the film begins, Affleck’s character, Joe Coughlin, is working for a notorious Boston mobster named Albert during the Prohibition.
Joe is a self-proclaimed outlaw. He actively rebels against his authoritative upbringing, as his father was a cop. He is passionately engaged in an affair with Albert’s girlfriend, Emma Gould. Throughout this affair, Joe distributes rum and gets involved with a car chase that results in the death of two cops, making him a fugitive.
This does not end well for Joe, as Emma sets him up at a casino. He finds Albert waiting for him with two hit men, who end up taking Emma away.
After being rescued from that fiasco by his dad, his dad’s police colleagues beat him. Joe is arrested after he visits the hospital. There he stays imprisoned for five years. And so begins the fast-paced, painful life of Joe Coughlin.
This movie has a stylish ’20s atmosphere and good potential for a meaningful storyline, but with a constant flow of erratic events that result in a stringy plot, it is hard to gather what to take from it.
After being released from jail, Joe continues his life of crime, working for mobsters who are also under Albert’s control. Joe is apparently seeking vengeance on Albert, who he believes has killed Emma.
He stumbles upon new love though, during a robbery where a Cuban woman named Graciela helps him.
Joe’s interracial relationship with Graciela attracts the hatred of the KKK, who are committed to destroying his personal and business life.
Through underground crime connections, Joe also discovers photos that show the police chief’s daughter is a prostitute. He shows these pictures to the chief, resulting in the officer’s permanent disdain.
After being rescued from her lifestyle, the police chief’s daughter pronounces herself saved and pays dues for her former sex- and heroin-driven life by preaching about purity in their town.
The locals are entranced by her, so when she starts preaching against the rum trade, it loses its local popularity.
It is unclear why Joe did not relocate, but the girl, who is still deeply troubled, eventually commits suicide. Joe inevitably gets blamed for the death, and the officer attempts to sabotage Joe’s life. The movie is dominated by subplots like this that ultimately just leave the viewer confused and unsatisfied.
This is a very visual movie, with authentic ’20s scenery and a dark, steamy feel. A fast plot and consistent violence would be expected and needed from a mobster movie, yes; but this movie is more committed to providing attempts at dramatic, emotional scenes that just feel empty.
The script does not do the movie any justice, with continuous bad one-liners and an overall choppy plot. If you are a Ben Affleck fan and you like ’20s scenery, you may get some sensational enjoyment out of this movie, but after the edgy setup, it is ultimately a huge disappointment.
Olivia Swenson-Hultz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]