Published Jan 12, 2017Word is Ben Affleck pushed his latest project, the noir-ish Prohibition-era gangster film Live By Night, to premiere in select markets during the holidays so it could qualify for Oscar consideration — and really, why wouldn't he? Although he's never won an acting award from the Academy, his films have struck gold before: Good Will Hunting in 1997, followed by Argo in 2012. The guy's got a good track record.
But Live By Night isn't the awards season contender it so desperately wants to be.
It's not for a lack of trying. Live By Night looks amazing thanks to cinematographer Robert Richardson, who has worked with greats like Quentin Tarantino (most recently on The Hateful Eight) and Martin Scorsese, names alongside which Affleck no doubt dreams his will be uttered some day. Academy Award-nominee Jacqueline West's costumes, all loose-fitting pinstripe suits and cream-coloured gowns, are similarly superb.
But Live By Night is a two-hour movie that, if pre-existing contracts didn't exist, should have been a six-part miniseries — hell, maybe even longer. And in a world where excellent, ambitious period-piece crime dramas like Peaky Blinders and Boardwalk Empire exist, there's no reason it shouldn't be.
Affleck (who plays triple-duty as writer, director and the film's lead) is Joe Coughlin, a WWI vet and son of a police chief-turned-two-bit Boston gangster. When the woman he loves is killed by a competing crime lord, he's exiled to Tampa.
This is America near the start of the 20th century, and anything is possible. Coughlin becomes a bootlegger, then the guy contracted to help break ground on a casino. A working class Irish crime drama turns into an Italian crime drama, then a story about interracial love. A fight against the Ku Klux Klan follows that, before Live By Night turns back into an Italian crime drama once again.
Characters come and go, side stories are built up only to suddenly disappear. It's all a little too much. Affleck provides a voiceover to fill in the gaps and tie everything together, but it grows tiring as time goes by, and by the end, feels unfocused.
As a Hollywood triple-threat, Affleck is at an interesting time in his career. He's a former critical darling, but also a commercial superhero (even though the Rotten Tomatoes ratings may make it seem otherwise). He can't keep being both.
My advice? Hang up the cape. (Warner Bros.)