Ben Affleck has proven himself to be both an eclectic actor and a riveting filmmaker over the years. He’s directed brilliant dramas like “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town,” and “Argo,” but his next directing/acting job “Live by Night” is a major step down. It’s a crime drama set during the Probibition Era, but the question to me is: what’s the story about?
The poster’s tag line says: “Joe Was Once a Good Man,” but according to its narrative, I now find it either unconvincing or convoluted. Joe (Affleck’s character) was a WWI solider, and ends up taking up crime. He ends up in jail for robbery, missing the opportunity to say goodbye to his police captain father (Brendan Gleeson), and decides to work for an Italian gangster (Remo Girone), who wants him to handle his rum empire in Tampa, Florida.
All I got out of this movie are his love for a Cuban dame (Zoe Saldana), his work with both his partner (Chris Messina) and a police chief (Chris Cooper), and his plans to open up a casino. And I can’t forget the chief’s would-be actress daughter (Elle Fanning), who becomes a druggie at one point and then a devouted Christian. The rest is basically your standard gangster movie with betrayals, bullets, rum, forgettable mob bosses, mediocre acting, and a few cheesy effects.
The locations in Tampa look really nice. I was there a decade ago, but not in the area the story takes place (Ybor City). The rivers, the sets, and a train scene all looks fascinating-the kind that would work perfectly in a gangster movie. But the truth about gangster movies like “Goodfellas” or “The Godfather” is that they aren’t about looks; they’re about narrative, directions, and ambitions. “Live by Night,” despite being crafted by the versatile Ben Affleck, is all looks and less persona.