Live By Night (2016): Where did It Go Wrong in Affleck’s Gangster Story

The official movie site is here.

Live by Night is all about the story of antihero Joseph “Joe” Coughlin (Ben Affleck), a nearly expressionless Irish man who suddenly throws himself into underworld war between Irish mob, Albert White (Robert Glenister), and Italian mafia Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone). Despite being son of Deputy Inspector of Boston Police and WWI veteran, Joe decides to join the Italian Mafia after White beats him and allegedly kills his lover Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). Pescatore then sends him to Tampa, Florida, to establish his business there while kicking White’s business out of Florida. Joe, with his charismatic approach and sometimes with his gangster way, successfully leads his business over liquor and narcotics, even collaborate with the Cuban where he finally marries Cuban lady Graciella (Zoe Saldana). He also successfully eliminates one by one of his challenges: the Ku Klux Klans, the extremist RD Loomis who asks for his part for Joe’s clubs, and finally the sheriff’s daughter Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning) who became a devout Christian who stands against Joe’s casino building.

7.5/10. Well, this is probably because I watched too many gangster movies and become a die-hard fan of Godfather (1972). So for me, this movie is quite good, sharp and effective like a gangster move, but also lack of surprise. You can expect all you can expect on a gangster movie if you have watched Godfather, LA Confidential (1997) or even The Sopranos (1999-2007): bloody slaughters, massive gun shootings, political lobbies, bribery with Affleck’s sharp directing style (if you have watched Argo (2011), you should know), but it’s way too easy to guess. Even the plot twist at the ending that shocked the lady beside me is too clear to be seen even from the beginning. So while everything in this movie is running at the very right path for a gangster movie, I still feel that this movie is lack of its spirit. 

However, the actors’ is acting quite satisfactorily. Affleck, though it seems like his character is lost to the man who’s sitting in the director’s chair (which is Affleck himself), tries his best to keep his cool as a mafia boss while keeps looking good in his period creme suits. Sienna Miller looks terribly good in her bitchy performance and talks a heavy Irish accent while playing Emma Gould, Elle Fanning is quite good as Loretta Figgis but not convincing enough as a drugs addict who turns into devout Christian, but it is Zoe Saldana who steals the screen for me. Playing as the sister of Cuban businessman’s sister Graciella Suarez, Saldana shows a stellar performance without having sexually exploited. Graciella is not a diva like Emma Gould, or a divine Christian like Loretta Figgis, but her simple dream to build houses for unattended women and children gives this movie a real virtue while surrounded by dirty businesses, and keeps this movie stands still on the ground.

I don’t wanna convince you to watch this movie, but I wanna quote a beautiful quote of this movie

So where is heaven? This is heaven. Right here. We’re in it now.

-Loretta Figgis


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