Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - Dan jolin

Di­rec­tor Ben Af­fleck cast Ben Af­fleck, Zoe Sal­dana, Chris Cooper, Elle Fan­ning, Si­enna Miller, Robert Glenis­ter

plot Dis­il­lu­sioned by his ex­pe­ri­ence fight­ing in World War I, cop’s son Joe Cough­lin (Af­fleck) be­comes a small-time hood op­er­at­ing in Bos­ton. But af­ter fall­ing foul of Ir­ish gang­ster Al­bert White (Glenis­ter), he winds up work­ing for the Mafia in Tampa, Florida, fu­elled by vengeance and am­bi­tion.

BEN AF­FLECK’S FOURTH film as di­rec­tor is also his sec­ond to adapt Bos­ton-noir mas­ter Den­nis Le­hane. In 2007, he ably demon­strated his be­hind-the-cam­era nous with taut, fo­cused crime mys­tery Gone Baby Gone, which proved a sign of such great things to come that it wasn’t long be­fore peo­ple were giv­ing him the ul­ti­mate ac­tor-turned-di­rec­tor ac­co­lade by call­ing him “the new Clint East­wood”. With Live By Night, Af­fleck fur­ther pushes the East­wood com­par­i­son in the role of sol­dier-turned-out­law-turned-mob­ster Joe Cough­lin, de­liv­er­ing ev­ery line in a raspy, Clin­tesque half-whis­per and open­ing his eyes barely wider than a squint. But, de­spite min­ing the same nov­el­ist’s work, the film it­self is not nearly as taut, fo­cused or grip­ping as Af­fleck’s im­pres­sive de­but.

Live By Night opens un­surely and doesn’t quite know when to end, mak­ing it — like Af­fleck him­self, now perma-beefed to Bat­man pro­por­tions — a whole lotta mid­dle. Over-de­pen­dent on tell­rather-than show voiceover, it at­tempts a sickbedreflec­tion start­ing point, then flashes back to a Miller’s Cross­ing-style tale of love tri­an­gles and dou­ble crosses. Then it re­turns to that start­ing point and dumps what you’d ex­pect to be two main char­ac­ters, be­fore jump­ing for­ward a few years and de­cid­ing it’s now a re­venge movie, com­pletely shift­ing lo­ca­tion from an au­tum­nal Bos­ton to the salsa-sound­tracked streets of Ybor, Tampa, in Florida. Ex­cept… it for­gets it’s a re­venge movie and set­tles into the fa­mil­iar rhythm of a gang­ster rise-to-power nar­ra­tive — with added flavour from the Ku Klux Klan and Chris­tian fa­nat­ics. Such loose struc­tur­ing can be fine in novel form, but Af­fleck has some­how turned Le­hane’s book into a two-hour movie that feels three hours long.

Which is a shame, as it’s by no means lack­ing in mem­o­rable mo­ments. Ev­ery frame brims with vis­ual qual­ity, thanks to Robert Richardson’s ever-steady eye; the DP cap­tures the sharp, ex­pres­sion­ist con­trasts of clas­sic film noir in vi­brant colour. Early on, Af­fleck pulls off a bravura heist-get­away chase scene, which feels like The

Bourne Supremacy in Model T Fords; he glee­fully smashes them to­gether, sends them tum­bling along orange-leafed for­est roads, sets them alight and art­fully dunks one in a lake. And later on, he treats us to an almighty shoot-out in an or­nate, Florid­ian ho­tel, tak­ing as much note from the Coen broth­ers’ ‘Danny Boy’ scene in Miller’s Cross­ing as he does from Brian De Palma’s Scar­face.

Sadly, though, the rest con­sists of nar­ra­tion which goes over things the au­di­ence al­ready knows (or can fig­ure out for them­selves), while the ‘good man in a bad world’ theme doesn’t quite wash. If a thirst for re­venge drove this for­mer small-time crook to join up with the vi­o­lent mob­sters he once de­rided, then Af­fleck’s script never quite makes sense of Joe’s de­ci­sion to stick with this life once his re­tribu­tive pas­sion has ap­par­ently sub­sided. Which sadly makes this a thor­oughly dis­ap­point­ing fol­low-up to the crack­ingly scripted Os­car high of Argo.

Ver­dict a hand­some pe­riod drama with the oc­ca­sional im­pres­sive flour­ish, but de­spite its rich sub­ject mat­ter, its af­fleck’s weak­est film yet as a di­rec­tor.

Their smoke rings needed some work.

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