Soon after the publication of his Prohibition crime novel Live By Night, Dennis Lehane became a consulting producer and writer on HBO’s similarly themed series Boardwalk Empire. Sadly, you can’t help but think that he would have been better served by going down the television route instead of this big screen adaptation.
Writer-director Ben Affleck did an excellent job of adapting Lehane’s lean noir thriller Gone Baby Gone for his directorial debut, but this time around he is defeated by the sheer scale and scope of the source material. Any number of Live by Night’s intricate plot lines –the police captain father and his criminal son, the Mafia taking on the Ku Klux Klan, the fragile Christian beauty who preaches against gambling – would have made an intriguing film in their own right, but cramming them all together means this film unfolds in a frustratingly fragmentary fashion.
It’s a shame because there is much to like about Live by Night, which traces the story of World War One veteran Joe Coughlin (Affleck), who rebels against his police captain father (Brendon Gleeson) and takes up a life of crime. After falling foul of Boston Irish mob boss Alfred White (Robert Glenister), Joe reluctantly begins working for his main rival, Maso Pescatore (Rimo Girone), and is sent to Florida to run his rum importing business. He successfully builds a criminal empire but eventually begins to question whether he has the ruthlessness required to maintain his grip on power.
Affleck is not entirely convincing as the troubled gangster, but there are excellent performances from the likes of Chris Messina as his loyal sidekick, Chris Cooper as the Tampa police chief and Elle Fanning as the latter’s daughter, who finds religion after being rescued from position. Behind the camera, the star is more assured when it comes to big action set-pieces and Affleck also scores with the beautifully evoked period settings. Ultimately though, it’s proof once again that staying faithful to the source material isn’t always the best option.
In cinemas: January 26, 2017
Starring: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller
Directed by: Ben Affleck