Film · Review

Live By Night

Ben Affleck is a good Boston boy now isn’t he? There should be a statue of him if there isn’t already, probably in some kind of suit. Imagine by one of those big Boston landmarks, a big old grumpy faced Affleck. Or maybe there should be three: young, hot Ben; older, doughy (but still hot) Ben and between the two just a little Matt Damon. Perfect.

Live by Night is not largely set in Boston. It is for about ten minutes then it moves to Florida because it’s nicer and warmer and that’s where the rum is. It’s the prohibition and Affleck is a mobster, or a mafioso. I’m not too sure the difference. He’s also on the trail of the gang boss who knocked off his ex-girl and escaping a procedural district who do not look on him too kindly. Suffice to say there’s a lot of motivation to move south.

This tale of mob intrigue is offset by how light a touch the whole thing has. It feels at times more mannered than an Austen novel. We’re swiftly introduced to the political landscape a battleground between the whites, the Irish, the Italians, the Cubans, the Haitians and the Dominicans. Now I’m fairly sure I didn’t fall asleep during this film but if something ever came of all of that it was never effectively conveyed to me. The greatest trouble seems to be the tentacles stretching down from the north. Hometown disagreements are largely coming from the Klan and the Church.

Which, boy talk about safe targets, but there is something to be said here. Maybe a comment about white fragility, looking at the fractured nature of whiteness in a time when white subcommunities were not fully accepted (maybe because whiteness ain’t real.) But come on, I think there’s just a vested interest here in keeping our heroes rosy clean.

They’re willing to shoot up the Klansmen, they’re unwilling to shoot up the preacher, they hold an uneasy alliance with the authorities. This is a thoroughly declawed version of history in which our hero is motivated through his criminal life not by any un-wholesome feelings but those good American virtues, independence, revenge. There is much talk throughout of whether he is a strong enough man to do what it takes.

Maybe there’d be something here to recommend it if the whole thing weren’t so boring. Like there’s action sometimes and the plot moves fair enough. Acting is solid throughout, Chris Cooper stays awesome as a crooked Sheriff, Zoe Saldana is wasted as a wife with nothing to do. The way that Affleck shoots himself having sex is still hilarious but there’s nothing to grab onto here. There’s no emotional or thematic ground that hasn’t already been paced in Affleck’s prior film. It just moves along, reaches the conclusion that it must.

It’s selfish in a way, just keeping it to itself like this. I wish there would be further depths it could allow access to, and indeed at times there really seems to be. It just don’t let you though, and in refusing to examine itself it refuses to let you in. Wish I could have, maybe I’d have found something more exciting there.

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