Sign in

Live by Night

This is a shout out for all those who can remember that bygone era known as the ’90s: a man named Kevin Costner, an actor who occasionally directed, had a unquenchable predilection for building films around the notion that he would get to play Jesus. Or if not Jesus, then some kind of non-denominational extrapolation of said. A tainted, earthbound messiah. All has gone quiet at Camp Costner, but thankfully we’ve got Ben Affleck to fly that decade’s demigod flag. Live by Night is his flubbed but undoubtedly intriguing follow-up to his surprise awards magnet, Argo, from 2012. This is the superior film – less beholden to formula and more attracted to detail and moments of off-the-cuff poetry. If Argo was Affleck’s Dances with Wolves, this is his Waterworld. There are even shots, such as a stroll on a beach during magic hour, or a salt maze pattern on a tabletop, that feel like Affleck was inspired by his role in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder. It comes across as a case of trying to locate a happy medium between an “audience” film, replete with superficial fun and frolics, blood and swearing, and something with a little more gravity, that has Important Things to say about the nature of the human soul. This tough equation doesn’t quite pan out. The film is a 1920s-set gangster saga whose plot is divided between the hard cobbles of Boston in the north and the booze-soaked slurry tracks of Tampa in the south. Affleck himself slinks awkwardly into the wide-shouldered cream suits and tilted fedoras of Joe Coughlin, a World War One grunt who returns to America with a bone to pick with the top brass. Having served his country with honour, he now feels its his right to take something back, and so a life of petty crime ensues. Before too long, his anger is parlayed into helping out local gang bosses, who he largely resents. Dennis Lehane’s chunky 2012 tome is abridged to compact the antihero’s journey as he rises to a position of eminence ...