Live by Night, written and directed by Ben Affleck, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Live by Night is a good, captivating motion picture that the critics have not appreciated, given the Metascore of only 49, the only three nominations that the film has, from the Broadcast Film Critics Association for Best Production Design…
The Location Managers Guild International Awards have nominated this film for Outstanding Achievement Award in the category of Outstanding Locations in a Period Film and the World Stunt Awards have selected this feature for the Taurus World Stunt Award for Best Work with a Vehicle…
However, these are the only honors for which Live by Night has been considered.
It is not Argo or Good Will Hunting, but there is merit in this motion picture, which presents the life of some gangsters without the class, the charisma, radiance, vibrancy, majesty of The Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino, Donnie Brasco or other masterpieces, but then few films can ever reach that level.
Ben Affleck is solid, good as Joe Coughlin, the hero of the movie, a complex character who starts playing on the good side, only to fall off and become a gangster, forced somewhat by circumstances, but also a victim of his own shortcomings.
In 1926, in Boston, Thomas Coughlin – portrayed by the always formidable Brendan Gleeson- is one of the leading police officers, but his son, Joe would not follow in his footsteps, after falling in love with Emma Gould aka the effective Sienna Miller, a woman who lives between two worlds, informing the police, while at the same time playing the role of mistress to one of the leaders of the criminal world, Albert White
The latter wants to catch and punish the hero and has an arrangement with Emma, promising her that he will spare the life of the young man, if she brings him to face punishment, only when this happens, the mobster would break his word.
Joe Coughlin is caught between Scylla and Charybdis, seeing as he takes part in a robbery, forced by circumstances, but as stated, also a victim of his flaws, and in that larceny, police officers are killed and therefore the hero has to face both the underworld and the law, with a good chance of dying.
Albert White intends to kill him, when Captain Coughlin arrives, saves his son, but only to give him to the angry comrades of the dead policemen, who beat and send Joe to the hospital, where he has a broken nose, ribs and other injuries.
Maso Pescatore enters the stage, as another organized crime boss, who offers a chance for the hero to get his revenge, but he has to work for Pescatore – in the words of this crime lord, if he says the protagonist has to clean his shit in the toilet, that is what he will do.
This is the period of the prohibition and Joe is sent to the South of the United States to organize, control the illegal distilleries and make profits for the kingpin, who would not be satisfied, in spite of the increase in income, because the hero stays away from drug distribution and prostitution, which are important means of income for the underworld.
Joe Coughlin is devastated by the death of his lover, he is sure that Albert White has killed the woman who had been their shared partner and with time, he becomes involved with Graciela, a woman who is working in the illegal alcohol trade, controlling a vital ingredient in the making of liquor.
There is violence, the opposing gangs kill one each other’s members and corrupt officials are not just part of the illegal trade, but some have a crucial role in controlling it, like Chief Figgis, played by the fabulous Chris Cooper, who works with RD Pruitt.
The latter would rather work for free for the enemies of the hero, although he gets paid by Albert White, for he hates Joe and would stop at nothing in order to kill or push him out of what he sees as his territory, attacks his clubs, destroys his transports.
In this vicious fight, the protagonist uses blackmail, for he has photos of Loretta Figgis, who went to California to become an actress, but has been trapped by drug pushers, became an addict and in order to regain contact with her, Chief Figgis has to play the game imposed by Joe.
Loretta aka the continuously growing Elle Fanning, returns only to create problems for the Coughlin gang, as she says that she has had an Epiphany, she has found Redemption and talks to religious audiences about sin, the dangers of drugs- showing her arms and the scars on them- and opposes fiercely gambling.
The hero has a big project, he wants to build a casino, but with the opposition of the “Madonna”, he cannot get the law changed, even if he tries hard, the redeemed young woman would not budge and Joe is pressed to kill her- indeed, when the boss Pescatore would confront him, the fact that the preacher had not been killed is one of the grave failures on the list.
Loretta Figgis kills herself, but the cynical mobsters- not the hero though- regret the death…only in terms of having come too late for it to make a difference for the now abandoned plan of the casino- if she only did this a month ago, they say.
Finally, there is a confrontation between the kingpins and the rising star, with unexpected developments that would not be mentioned here, except to state that, obviously many die, are wounded or just…Die Another Day.
Some of the surprises are genuine, counterintuitive, in the sense that the actions of some of the key players are not what common, the decisions made in the mainstream gangster film.