If watching Ben Affleck live out every one of his fantasies on screen for two-plus hours sounds like your cup of tea, then has he got the treat for you.
Live by Night, produced, written, directed by and starring Affleck in the year where he got to play Batman in not one but two films may as well have kicked off with the Goodfellas opener “as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” Too ostensibly a gangster flick, the comparisons with Goodfellas and other, better films, stop there.
In Live by Night, Affleck, who has not been shy about his political views, gets to play a 1920s gangster, hat and white suit to boot, the romeo, seducing Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana, say cool things like “breaking the rules meant nothing, you have to be strong enough to make your own,” moralize in interminable monologues for a great deal of what feels like a much longer run time, take on the religious right, the KKK, look dope shooting people and still somehow be the good guy.
Not only that, a speech halfway through the film where Affleck’s gangster-lite Joe Goughlin decries the treatment of immigrants and minorities to one of many awful people he was vying to do business with, captured only inches from Affleck’s berating glare, throws way too much shade at the Electoral College and new Commander-in-Chief in a declamation less subtle than Affleck’s self-stated homage to the gangster hits of old which he has utterly failed to replicate in either style or substance.
One minute you’re watching a film about robbing banks, then it’s all fathers and sons, or bootlegging, or guys in white hoods who don’t speak too eloquently – it gets a little hard to keep track. Father-daughter duo Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning, the latter fresh off her star turn in The Neon Demon, initially prove two of the more interesting characters, with Cooper’s corrupt yet righteous Sherriff offering some of the film’s better platitudes, before their characters abruptly transmute to suit whichever challenge Affleck’s anti-hero of sorts needs to adeptly overcome.
Packed with interesting ideas, great visuals and promising subplots, a flick focused on one of the minor characters, or at least one without Affleck’s gangster front and centre in every scene might have proved less trying or even a trifle more enjoyable. Somewhere in Live by Night there is a good film that with too much tacked on quickly went very, very far off track.
Live by Night is in cinemas from January 26