“Live by Night”
2 hours, 9 minutes
The big movie this weekend was — and this is probably not news to most of you considering the massive box office it made— “Beauty and the Beast,” the live-action adaptation of the classic fairy tale and classic Disney animated film from 1991.
I’ve had conflicted feelings about this film. I liked the animated version, but it came out during my senior year of high school, so Disney princess films weren’t exactly my main priority. To me the trailer looked odd – too much a recreation of the cartoon in a weird way, and the look of the Beast was off-putting. Still, I planned on going – after all, I really enjoyed the live-action remakes of “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book.”
The main critique I’d heard about this film was that it really catered to nostalgia for the first Disney film more than anything else – that those who weren’t into the tale of Belle and the Beast to start with would get very little out of it. This theory seemed to be borne out when I tried to get my 9- and 7-year-olds excited to go. My, admittedly forced, enthusiasm was met with “Do I have to?” “I don’t want to go,” and “I’ll go if we can go to Wal-Mart after and get a toy.”
When you have to bribe a kid with a toy to go see a Disney movie, you know there’s a problem. Needless to say, we didn’t go.
Instead, I watched a movie I’d been wanting to catch during the five minutes it was in theaters, but never made it to. Ben Affleck had been on a streak for a while there, but the last few years haven’t been so good to the actor/director. An ugly divorce, a critical drubbing for “Batman v Superman,” and the complete failure of the big budget “Live by Night,” which Affleck wrote, directed, and stars in. Perhaps it should have been no surprise to hear that the actor just recently completed a stint in rehab.
Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin, a WWI vet who comes back from the war disillusioned and determined never to follow the man’s rules again. He calls himself an outlaw and justifies his penchant for robbery as some kind of civil disobedience.
After he ends up on the wrong end of a war between gangsters trying to corner the market on illegal liquor, Joe finds himself and his partner on the way to Miami to take over the rum operations there.
There’s more — a girl, a murder, a stint in jail, but it all leads to Joe heading south to become one of the biggest rum runners ever, working right alongside the Cubans and Dominicans looked down upon by the white establishment. He falls for the beautiful Graciela, played by Zoe Saldana, forms an uneasy truce with police captain Figgis (Chris Cooper), and rakes in more money than he ever dreamed.
Ah, but the good life is not to be. Seems the gangster he left back home has very specific plans for Joe, and if he can’t deliver, our hero will have outlived his usefulness.
“Live by Night” feels tailor made for me. Gangster movie, Ben Affleck directed, Boston accents, based on a book by one of my favorite authors. I figured I was sure to love it, no matter what the other critics had to say.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. That’s not to say “Live by Night” is bad. It’s OK, but to my surprise, Affleck is the worst part. Puffy, half-asleep, and far too self-serious for my taste. It really makes you wonder if he was going through something while he was making this film. It’s probably an easy assumption to make, that Affleck’s personal trials carried over into this project which proved too unwieldy to manage.
Maybe that’s not it at all. Even the best directors have a misfire from time to time. And honestly, this movie isn’t that bad, just not what you expect from the guy who recently won Best Picture for “Argo.” It’s got some tension and I bought into the story, though more for the characters that aren’t played by Affleck.
It certainly has scope, taking place over the course of a decade and in vastly different locales. I liked the plot, how it weaved in and out, though the final climactic plot point is given short shrift robbing it of emotional weight. Given a bit more energy it could have been a classic gangster picture.
Affleck’s portrayal of Coughlin, however, slows everything down. It’s not that he’s not likeable, it’s that he’s not interesting. He’s supposed to be the very embodiment of a line from his father, played by the great Brendon Gleeson, earlier in the film. “What you put out into the world comes back to you.”
Unfortunately, he never seems invested in that role enough for anyone to care.
“Live by Night” is rated R for violence, sexual situations, and language.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.