Ben Affleck is a remarkably versatile Actor and Director, notwithstanding his impressive ability to take on the role of superheroes and supervillains a like. ‘Live by Night’ is his latest offering, and it’s quite the grotesque yet swashbuckling concoction set to surprise you with its twists and turns.
Joe Coughlin (played by Affleck) is a big time bank robber in 1920s Boston. His luck swiftly runs out when there’s a botched heist downtown and he’s separated from his partners in crime. In addition to being branded as a bandit, he adds ‘cop killer’ to the roster, a situation that further complicates things with his father who happens to be the Boston Police Captain.
In the course of his dalliance with law enforcement and violent gangs, Joe falls in love with Emma Gould (played by Sienna Miller), the mistress of one of the biggest mobsters on the East Coast, a ‘crime’ that nearly costs him his life. He’s spared from the clutches of death in the nick of time, only to be delivered into the hands of the police who spare no baton on him for murdering one of their colleagues.
Coughlin wakes up in hospital, badly bruised and miraculously back from the precipice of death, again, and he vows to leave Boston one way or another, for his survival. He turns to Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) an Italian Mafia boss and head of a rival gang, offering to go down south to the State of Florida where he plans to sort out the mess that is Pescatore’s dwindling illegal business.
It’s an era of Prohibition, when Protestants and those who termed themselves as progressives, or enlightened, sought to fight the shocking rise in alcoholism, violence and political corruption, ultimately forcing the United States government to ban the sale, use, importation and transportation of alcoholic beverages. But we all know how society gets with forbidden fruits.
Joe is in the business of alcohol trade, and it’s booming. But while the establishments he oversees are roaring, threats pop up from everywhere, including violent yet influential Ku Klux Klan members and borderline fanatical religious groups who are opposed to the construction of dens of decadence (referring to a planned casino by Joe and Pescatore) that will only serve to erode the values of society.
To say that the film – which is not shy of swathes of gun violence, grimy murder and gang brutality – is a masterpiece that re-enacts 1920s America is somewhat moderate praise. The cinematography and contextual richness of ‘Live by Night’ is a testament to Ben Affleck’s genius. Known not to be shy about death and violence, the only downturn for him is the lack of depth in the female characters portrayed in the female, more specifically the well-equipped Zoe Saldana (plays Graciela), who despite her talent, was reduced to a lacklustre peripheral performer, even though she had an immense impact on Joe.
Overall, ‘Live by Night’ is a dark film which feeds on the immorality of an era that wasted its chance at a renaissance, but portrays it so accurately, you can’t help but sit through the just over 2 hours.