Film Review by Kam Williams
Ben Affleck Directs and Stars in Latest Adaptation of a Lehane Crime Thriller
Dennis Lehane has enjoyed phenomenal success not only as a novelist but writing directly for TV (Boardwalk Empire and The Wire). And several of his crime thrillers have been brought to the big screen, including Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone, Baby, Gone.
In 2007, Ben Affleck directed Gone, Baby, Gone, staying behind the camera while letting his little brother, Casey, play the picture's protagonist. But in the case of Live by Night, the latest adaptation of a Lehane best seller, Ben has opted to do double duty as both star and filmmaker.
He will likely be second-guessed for that decision, since his acting proves to be the weak link in an otherwise first-rate production. The trouble is that his limited range often leaves the audience wondering whether his character is being sincere or sarcastic.
The action unfolds in Boston at the height of Prohibition which is where we are introduced to small-time crook Joe Coughlin (Affleck). Trouble is, he's the black sheep of a prominent Irish family whose patriarch (Brendan Gleeson) is the city's Deputy Chief of Police.
Ignoring his father's pleas to keep his nose clean, Joe instead escalates his reckless behavior which culminates in the deaths of a few cops in the wake of a bank robbery gone bad. After getting off with a slap on the wrist thanks to his daddy's pulling strings, Joe entertains the overtures of a couple of bootlegging mob bosses engaged in a bloody turf war. Although Irish
Albert White (Robert Glenister) appeals to Joe on the basis of their shared ethnicity, he ultimately opts to work for the Italian syndicate headed by Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone).
His assignment is to set up a rum-running operation in Tampa, Florida. As he steps off the train, he ominously falls in love at first sight with the Graciela (Zoe Saldana), a gorgeous Cuban expatriate employed by a rival. Before you can whistle the overture to West Side Story, the two marry and Joe suddenly wants out of his grisly line of work.
Of course, that proves easier said than done for the "made man," so the body count must rise before the dust settles. Despite Ben's wooden performance and an overstuffed production which rushes along ostensibly to cover all the ground of the 400+ page novel, Affleck appears to have another hit on his hands with this chilling adaptation of Lehane's gruesome gangster saga.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, graphic violence and pervasive profanity and ethnic slurs
Running time: 128 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
To see a trailer for Live by Night, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtFZcAuH-qI