Flawed Affleck flick falls flat



Ben Affleck’s new directorial effort “Live by Night” has proved to be both a commercial and critical flop, carrying just a 34 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing $65 million budget.


When World War I veteran Joe Couglin returns from the trenches of war, he comes home to a gangster-infested America in the Prohibition Era.  Joe wants nothing to do with the Rum War that’s being waged between Albert White and Mesco Pescotore, the Irish and Italian mob bosses, respectively.

Joe makes his living robbing banks and escaping the watchful eye of his police captain father. But when a sudden betrayal gets Joe involved with the mob war, he sides with Mesco. Joe is then sent down to Florida to push out White’s machinations and build a mobster empire for the Italians.

Directing 3/5

Based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, actor, writer, director; Ben Affleck had plenty of solid and expansive material to work with. With other acclaimed movies under his belt, Affleck shouldn’t have had a hard time adapting Lehane’s book for the screen. Unfortunately, there is just too much to unpack in “Live By Night.” Despite its narrative and tonal flaws – which will be touched on later – “Live By Night” sure is pretty to look at. The culture and history of the Prohibition Era is a hotbed for visual imagery. With the majority of the movie taking place in tropical Florida, that culture is increased twofold. In terms of filmmaking technique, Affleck is well acquainted with how to work the camera, costuming and practical effects to nail that desired 1920’s retro flair.

If only that same focus and detail could have been put to the written portion of production.

Writing 2/5

As mentioned before, there is a lot that Affleck has stuffed into this movie. But a lot of it comes off as things Affleck wanted, as opposed to what was actually needed.

As far as Joe’s story arc is concerned, his dealings with the two mob bosses are handled very well – both in the beginning when the story is set up and at the climax when it’s resolved. While nothing groundbreaking as far as mobster movies go, it is an engaging plot line that is the by far the best written part of the movie.

It’s everything in the middle that weighs down what could have been an engrossing tale of a man conflicted by a moral dilemma and the consequences that arise from it.

There are so many themes and characters that are merely touched upon and then kicked to the back seat that it makes it hard to care for any certain event or person that the audience meets. Instead of taking time to show certain events, a majority of the story is conveyed in narration by Joe. This reoccurring showing and not telling does move the story along, but it doesn’t allow the audience enough time to spend with the characters and empathize with them.

Ultimately, a good deal of the movie is Joe sitting around a table and talking out business deals or discussing his take on morality and the choices he makes. These conversations could have been more meaningful if the movie had just let us take the time to get to know the characters involved. Instead, the film is largely focused on keeping the story going.

Acting 2/5

Affleck leads a star studded cast as Joe Coughlin. Knowing the talent that Affleck has, his role as Coughlin was a bit of a disappointment as it wasn’t all that challenging for the seasoned actor. Other roles include: Brandon Gleeson as Joe’s father, Thomas Coughlin; Zoe Saldana as Joe’s wife, Graciela Corrales;

Chris Messina as Joe’s partner Dion Bartolo; Robert Glenister as Italian mob boss Albert White; and Remo Girone as Maso Pescatore. Overall, the acting isn’t bad; it’s just nothing too impressive given the talent gathered here.


Given Affleck’s previous work as a director and his familiarity with the movie industry, “Live by Night” could have been an excellent film. But with an overstuffed plot and unfocused themes, this mobster movie is one that’s better left sleeping with the fishes.