Though richly, thoroughly and accurately appointed in period detail, Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort can never quite shake the familiarity of its tale: a gangster, Joe Coughlin (Affleck), struggling to rise above his criminal station.
As the tagline says, “Joe was once a good man.” Now, he’s a rumrunner trying to control central Florida’s bootlegging operation for a Boston godfather. He must negotiate the law, the Irish mob and even the KKK (apparently, one positive of 1920s organized crime is their wiping out the Klan) if he wants to live in happiness with his gorgeous Cuban wife, Graciela (Zoe Saldana).
Affleck lacks his usual charisma; he’s still stuck in glum Bruce Wayne mode. He merely looms like a bespoke, fedora-wearing Frankenstein’s monster who occasionally smiles. Maybe Dennis Lehane’s novel offered a fresher take on this criminal tale, but Affleck’s Live by Night fails to find anything new to say to viewers already sated by The Godfather, “Boardwalk Empire” or even Scarface.
The climactic bloodbath does contain one marvelous nod to De Palma. Sadly, that high note made me wish for more creative moments like it, and less that seemed like a 1920s episode of “Miami Vice.”
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