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19 Jan 2017

Gangster Rehash: Ben Affleck's 'Live by Night' Looks Good, but Doesn't Feel Right

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Ben Affleck and Chris Messina in Live by Night. Ben Affleck and Chris Messina in Live by Night.

Director Ben Affleck’s Live by Night is a period piece/costume drama that looks like a lot of work went into it, although it never feels like a cohesive picture.

Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin, one of those gangsters you just gotta love, fighting the gangster fight during Prohibition in sunny Florida. Joe rises to the top of the gangster field, despite being the son of a cop (Brendan Gleeson), and despite basically being an all-around good guy.

The problem is that Affleck fails to give his central character a true identity and emotional toolbox. The character feels stilted, and the movie around him feels like a costume party. It’s as if Affleck was afraid to make Joe the truly bad guy he should be. The fedoras and sweet suits all look good, but it’s in the service of a story that has been told before—in far more powerful ways.

Sienna Miller is good as Joe’s early love, and Elle Fanning, who had a great year with The Neon Demon and 20th Century Women, is also good as a disgraced actress who finds a new career in preaching. Again, the movie looks good, and Affleck’s performance is OK, but the story feels like a rehash of every gangster movie ever made.

Live by Night is playing at theaters across the valley.

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