Live by Night

First Hit:  Despite wonderful sets, cars, and clothes, this story meanders and fizzles.

Ben Affleck has directed, written and acted in some wonderful and even great films. The premise of this film was strong, where Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a product of the streets of Irish Boston, does not want to be beholden to his brother Deputy Police Chief Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson) nor any of the mob leaders, while being a criminal. However, because of his affection with a mob leader’s girlfriend Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), he gets blackmailed into working for Italian mobster Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) to save his butt.

He and his running partner Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) head to Tampa to build, manage and run a bootleg Rum business. In Tampa he works with Esteban Suarez (Miguel J. Pimental) and his sister Graciela (Zoe Saldana) to obtain Molasses for rum making. There is immediate chemistry between Joe and Graciela and it appears that Joe will find love again after losing Emma.

To take control of the Tampa market, he finds out what Police Chief Figgis (Chris Cooper) will tolerate and support. During the consolidation, he uses force and his manipulative style and rubs many of the town folks the wrong way, many of them with the KKK. One of those people RD Pruitt (Matthew Maher), who is Figgis’s brother in law, and he implores Figgis to help him resolve this issue.

To add to all this increasingly complicated story setup, we have Figgis’s daughter Loretta (Elle Fanning) who heads to California to become a star. To gain leverage over Chief Figgis’s brother in-law, Joe uses photos of Loretta to persuade Chief Figgis to fully resolve the brother-in-law issue. Then Affleck adds more complications to this movie because the story has the market for Rum changing and prohibition coming to an end and he wants to find an alternative form of income.

After starting to build a gambling casino Loretta becomes a profit of sorts, by preaching morality and thereby ending this new path. This ends up creating new friction in Tampa as well as with his boss Pescatore and an Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister).

Yes, over complication in telling this story led to a long film that tried to have too much detail over an extended period of time. Despite creating beautiful elegantly constructed sets, period automobiles that would satisfy any collector, and costumes that were stylistically sublime, only a few of the characters got older over the twenty or so years covered in this film and Affleck wasn’t one of them.

Affleck was good in this role and his intelligence and smart-alecky way worked for the character. However, he didn’t age in this film that covered many years from beginning to end. Miller was wonderful as an Irish girl that only was out for some laughs and a good time. Messina was great as Affleck’s side-kick and partner. Loved his energy in this role. Girone was strong as the Italian mobster. Pimental was good as the Cuban connection for molasses. Saldana was very strong as Pimental’s sister and Affleck’s lover. Cooper was pointedly effective as the Tampa Police Chief and caring father. Fanning was sublime as the re-born preacher. Maher was wonderfully unhinged as a guy who wanted his cut but didn’t want to do anything for it. Glenister was very good as the Irish mobster. Gleeson was perfect as Affleck’s brother, giving him space where needed and buttoning him down as well. Affleck wrote and directed this film. Problem seemed to be there was too much story to tell and he couldn’t trim his concept into something that filmgoers would sit, watch and like. It just seemed to meander.

Overall:  This isn’t a film to sit though unless you like just seeing beautiful sets, great cars, wonderful clothes, and some great looking people.