Live By Night

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

Live by Night is a movie set in the 1800's that explores the world of gangsters. An interesting story of love and crime. However, the scenes at times were too soft for the world of mafias and violence. It lacked bite and mercilessness. More of the ruthless greed and chaos was notably absent from this thriller which was directed by one of the most known actors in the entertainment business, Ben Affleck. 6 out of 10 stars.

As far back as the 1830’s, Americans were distrustful of alcohol. They believed it caused men to become unproductive, wasteful and aggressive towards women. But THEIR there main argument was that God, under the mainstream Christian belief, did not want people to drink. The movement to eliminate alcohol was mostly referred to as Temperance, and it finally got UNDERWAY its way in 1919.

The Prohibition Era begun after congress passed the 18th Amendment to the American Constitution, thereby outlawing the sale of all intoxicating drinks. Conservative Christians celebrated-this is a move God would approve of. With alcohol gone sanity will be restored, men would stop wasting their money and women and children will not be beaten up by their husbands or fathers.

What could possibly go wrong?

Laws are made to be broken, especially when they are not reasonable. The problem with such laws is that they cast shadows over other legitimate laws, sometimes even the constitution, in seeming illogical and unnecessary, and inspiring law respecting citizens to have low opinion of government. The Prohibition Era gave rise to the golden era of gangsters, where very colorful outlaws like Al Capone and Bugs Moran amassed large fortunes trafficking liquor. Alcohol was never more popular.

Who knew it was alcohol that kept America sane?

Live By Night takes place during such a time. WWI veteran Joe Coughlin is a bank robber who is ill-advisedly in love with a mafia bosses girlfriend. After a heist, he plans to elope. But nothing is so easy; the mafia boss, Albert White, finds out, has Coughlin beaten up and ball busted (the nastiest I have ever seen), only to fall short of killing him (but not for lack of trying).

Coughlin goes to prison for three years. Upon his release he becomes a criminal enforcer for an Italian Mafioso in the southern state of Florida, where White also currently operates. Before long though, he becomes a gifted bootlegger, more reliant on forming relationships and bribes than violence, except when the situation explicitly calls for it.

Coughlin is a different type of gangsters. He is no Tony Soprano or Michael Corleone, nowhere as cruel or immoral. He does not trade in prostitution or drugs. He does not kill innocent people, even if they pause a threat to his business ventures. His trade is alcohol, which is not-let us face it-much of a vice.

Coughlin is actually a good guy. In a time beset with racial slurs and prejudice, he falls in love with and marries a Cuban. What is more, he goes into an all-out war with the local white nationalist organization, mostly for moral reasons. This makes Coughlin less of a gangster, and more of a dark crusader.

Live By Night is a 2012 novel by crime writer Dennis Lehane. Lehane’s “Patrick Kenzie” and “Angela Gennaro” detective series is one of the best I have ever read. Especially, the second book of the series – “Darkness”, “Take My Hand”-is a scary, raw serial killer mystery thriller set in a grubby Boston working class neighborhood. The book is beautifully written as it is gut-wrenching, even more so in Lehane’s ability to convey action scenes in clear language.

Lehane is something of a Hollywood favorite. His novel “Mystic River” was adapted into a film version directed by Clint Eastwood in an award winning, skillfully crafted movie. Even better, Martin Scorsese would helm “Shutter Island”, a ghost story. A lesser known adaptation is “Gone Baby Gone” – the fourth episode of the Patrick Kenzie series – which was made into an able and touching thriller by Ben Affleck.

Affleck and Matt Damon have one of the most unique careers in Hollywood. In their youth, they could not get many acting jobs, so they wrote their own script, called it “Good Will Hunting” and succeeded in getting it produced. It was not a bad script; it actually ended up winning the Academy Award for scriptwriting and launched the pair into superstardom.

Affleck and Damon never worked together thereafter, but they both carved their own destinies. Affleck landed prominent roles in some very expensive movies (Armageddon, Shakespeare in Love and Pearl Harbor). He would soon hit a career downturn, making the atrocious “Daredevil” and the even more atrocious “Gigli.” Everyone thought Affleck was done and had made such bad choices in projects that it led many to question how much of “Good Will Hunting” he really wrote.

“Gone Baby Gone” was released in 2007. It did not star Affleck, but it was directed by him. A very exciting movie, it hinted at Affleck the artist, residing, and for a longtime confined, within Affleck the movie star. Affleck’s next directorial venture was the equally exhilarating heist movie “The Town.” But despite the acclaim the actor had gotten for these movies, no one expected Affleck’s next movie to be so intense or daring.

“Argo” is Affleck’s best film, and though too soon to tell, probably the one he would be remembered for. After the release and success of that movie, his next project has been deeply speculated about and anticipated. It has been four years, but all Affleck has to show for it is “Live By Night.”

“Live By Night” is what The Godfather would have looked like if it was directed by Walt Disney. It seems to have purpose. It is a movie that wants to go somewhere, say something, but does not quite know how to get there. Affleck, a liberal, like almost all celebrities, wanted to depict an important juncture in American history, one that hints at prejudice, chaos, and greed. But he made it too tame. The movie, despite several violent scenes, is too cute, and nowhere as controversial as it should be.



By Christian Tesfaye
Exclusive to Fortune

Published on Feb 13,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 876]



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