I went to watch this movie because I was impressed by Ben Affleck for his work in Argo (2012) and Gone Baby Gone (2007); however I was just a teeny-weeny bit disappointed this time.
Affleck wrote the screenplay based on Dennis Lehane’s novel Live By Night, the same author who wrote Gone Baby Gone. Live By Night is a gangster novel with a Latin influence set in the 1920s.
Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is an embittered soldier who returns to Boston and turns to crimes like armed robbery and murder, despite being the son of a Deputy Suprintendent (who has been demoted after 37 years because of the crimes Joe committed). Joe is imprisoned for 3 years and 4 months and his father died 2 weeks before his release. With nothing left, Joe decided to become a gangster to get back at Albert White (Robert Glenister), a rival gang boss whose mistress Emma (Sienna Miller) was Joe’s love.
Joe goes to Ybor City, a district in Tampa, Florida. He gets into the business of rum and bootlegging and meets Graciela (Zoe Saldana), whose family runs rum from Cuba. Because of this Cuban connection, there is a fair bit of Cuban and Rumba and jazz music that I like, such as Moonglow and Moonshine.
Joe also comes up with the idea of building the Ritz Casino and getting gambling legislated. This is where another layer to the story – that of a preacher in the form of Loretta (Elle Fanning) – comes in. Her speech about heaven is repeated by Joe to his young son at the end of the movie: This is heaven. Right here. We’re in it now.
By the end of the movie, I understand why this movie is not a box office hit in the US; why the newspaper reviewer gave it a rating of only two-and-a-half stars and commented that Affleck shows no expression for much of the movie; and why a friend wondered how another actor in a recent movie could emot just with his eyes!
I leave the cinema in awe of the entire production team, especially the man in charge of the music, Harry Gregson Williams, the stuntmen, the people in the art department and set decorators, the special effects teams, the sound editors and sound design team, the location manager, the scenic supervisor, the choreographer and music editors. I think what Affleck has achieved here not evident in the earlier movies is the infusion of a glamorous and largely atmospheric Latin lushness. This alone is worth the price of the admission ticket.