“Self-proclaimed anti-establishment outlaw Joe Coughlin (Oscar winner Ben Affleck) isn’t like the gangsters he refuses to work for: He has a sense of justice and an open heart. Driven to right the wrongs committed against him, he heads down a risky path. He and his reckless crew leave Boston for Tampa, and while revenge tastes sweeter than molasses in the illegal rum he runs, Joe learns that it comes at a price.”
Live By Night is a story that follows Joe Coughlin, an outlaw very much a part of the gangster world despite all his claims to the contrary. Spending his days playing bandit, robbing from different mob bosses, callously carrying on a romance with the girlfriend of one of the more powerful bosses, Albert White (Robert Glenister), it eventually catches up to him. When a botched bank robbery goes south, several cops are killed in the process. Joe, being the son of a well-respected police chief, gets off with only a few years in prison, saving him from the wrath of the mob. This first act neatly and concisely sets up this gangster world during prohibition, and does so beautifully. There is some intense action and an amazing car chase sequence, which quite honestly may be one of the best car chases of this era that I’ve seen.
Once out of prison, Joe turns to White’s nemesis to get revenge. Learning that he has been run out of town and set up an operation in Tampa, Joe is sent down south to set up his own operation in running rum. While there he flourishes, setting up an operation that is very successful. With a new relationship with rum runners from Cuba, he meets Graciela (Zoe Saldana), whom he becomes infatuated with. Problems with local groups and the KKK risk to upset the delicate balance in place, and future plans to build a casino that will make all the men wealthy long after prohibition ends. The second act takes a bit of a turn. Instead of the typical setting we’re used to in gangster films, we’re suddenly thrown into the hot humidity of Florida. A lot of information is presented in this second act, which is told almost too quickly. Important details and acts, such as becoming one of the largest distributers of rum in the south, aren’t shown on screen. Instead, a simple line of dialogue “we cornered the rum market”, replaces long and possibly quite interesting sequences as they set up their operation.
After Joe is recalled to meet with his boss, he fears that he may end up like his predecessor, on the other end of a gun. Without giving too much away of the action-packed third act, I will say that this transition will ease any boredom you may have felt during the second act. Everything in the film comes to a head in an explosive end which will satisfy all fans of gangster films.
Ben Affleck does a fantastic job bringing this film to the screen, with a group of seasoned actors that give every ounce of effort to aid him. With a stellar cast including Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning, Chris Cooper and Chris Messina, there is no shortage of powerful scenes and performances. Direction is masterfully done, with realistic scene and set designs that will make you feel like you really are in this era.
Although Joe is driven mainly by love and seeking revenge, Live By Night also attempts to tackle a lot of themes that seem to just get muddled in the process. Although the film is very entertaining, there are large sections that just don’t seem to blend well with the rest of the film. The notes that it does get right will resonate clearly, however, which results in an entertaining film which takes place in a fascinating period in American history.
Live By Night is presented in 1080p High Definition Widescreen 2.4:1. This presentation is basically flawless, with great balance in color, with different acts of the film filtered with a different hue; a cool, bluish tint in Boston, and a lighter, yellowish tint while in Florida. Affleck has proven himself to be a very good director, and everything about the look of the film, not just the technical aspect, is beautiful.
The audio is presented in Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This track is simply astonishing. The score, which is amazing, is powerfully conveyed through the surrounds. All the action scenes are very impressive, powerful, and will reaffirm your decision to spend all that money on a surround sound system.
There are quite a few special features included on this set, all give some great information from the cast and crew, and all worth taking a look at. On this set you’re going to see:
- The Men of Live By Night – Explore the outlaws’ moral code with the actors who painted the gangsters in shades of grey.
- Live By Night’s Prolific Author
- Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live By Night
- In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase
- Director’s Commentary
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary
Although Live By Night can be a bit muddled in the themes it wants to explore, there is no doubt that it is an entertaining film. It may not be quite the film that Argo or The Town was, but Ben Affleck has begun to make quite the name for himself as a director. With an exceptional style and look about his films, I hope to see more from him in the future. Live By Night is well worth checking out.