Ben Affleck (a very energetic man) produces, directs, co-writes and stars as a 1920s mobster in Live by Night

This gangland thriller is a passion project that leaves the audience cold

Live by Night (M18: sexual scenes and violence)

Starring Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning Directed by Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck has a blockbuster acting gig as Batman in the DC Entertainment superhero franchise while tending to his auteur ambitions. He hasn’t done badly, winning the 2013 Academy Awards’ best picture for producing-directing the political thriller Argo.

But Live by Night, what a misfire. 

Affleck again directed cum produced and co-wrote the screenplay adaptation of the 2012 award-winning bestseller by Dennis Lehane, whose novel, Gone Baby Gone, provided the source for Affleck’s acclaimed filmmaking debut eight years ago.

Affleck also stars in the Prohibition-era crime noir. His Joe Coughlin is the prodigal son of the police chief (Brendan Gleeson) in 1920s Boston, a bank-robbing outlaw with a moral code. A woman — what else? — is his fall, this duplicitous lover, played by Sienna Miller, the mistress of an Irish mob boss (Robert Glenister).

The troubles send Coughlin fleeing to Tampa, Florida, where the sprawling narrative continues to excavate every period gangster trope — sharp-suited mobsters and flapper molls; car chases and Tommy guns; betrayal and blackmail and the Ku Klux Klan, too — in navigating his decade-long descent into underworld notoriety.

It is shapeless and sterile despite the inherent tension of the Irish-Catholic anti-hero running a bootleg rum operation for an Italian mafia capo (Remo Girone) and finding redemption, remaking himself as a family man with a Cuban beauty (Zoe Saldana).

Chris Messina is his lieutenant. Chris Cooper as the local sheriff and Elle Fanning as his troubled evangelist daughter share the most vitally played arc in an epic on the corruption of America that is centred unfortunately upon Coughlin, with Affleck, lantern-jawed handsome, so dull a leading man. 2.5/5

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