Momentarily free from Batman’s cowl Ben Affleck returns to the director’s chair for the prohibition gangster drama ‘Live By Night’. Set away from the archetypal, mafiosi smoke swirls of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Good Fellas’ or Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’, the story starts in Affleck’s oft-favoured-backdrop of Boston before moving southwards. Its period detail is strong and with the summer climes of a new location, it would seem to make for a new, distinct-looking gangster picture.
'Live By Night' is out to achieve some kind of harmony...
However where the previous two films were all period grime and detail, ‘Live By Night’ has a cleaner polish to it. It’s a veneer that whilst it impresses with all its snarling Thompson machine gun ferocity, it still distances the viewer emotionally. Like Affleck’s central character, ‘Live By Night’ is out to achieve some kind of harmony and plot-wise it does so, predictably, answering the bidding of it’s paymasters, namely that of the cinema audience. However like the characters in the film, any audience familiar with the pathos and self-recrimination of films like ’Road to Perdition’ will soon become greedy for more. For all of its competency and committedly-acted performances (most notably Zoe Saldana) ‘Live By Night’ never really inhabits the dark, foreboding premise of its title. This is ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ without the lurking psychopathic behaviour patterns or the succeed-against-any-odds ambition of ‘Scarface’ (in either of its versions).
In the end ’Live By Night’ works effectively. All the dots join up and it doesn’t leave you hanging with any unresolved characters or unexplored themes and as such represents solid, well-made entertainment. However, as with the final encounter in the film’s closing minutes, it walks away leaving you wondering what might have been, had things been different.