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With Jim Sabatini

Live By Night

Live By Night
Ben Affleck, Brendan Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning

Rated: R for strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity.
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: December 25, 2016 Released by: Warner Brothers

Ben Affleck adapts Dennis Lehane again to diminishing, limited returns in this bulgy mob drama.

Live By Night has all of the period accoutrements of the Prohibition era with sharp lighting complements of cinematographer Robert Richardson to endow a noteworthy craftsmanship. But, a genuinely poignant, subtly potent tale, at least closer to the stately, somber Road To Perdition, say, in terms of ethical complexity and relativism, is sorely missing.

The writer/director and star of Batman v. Superman like his Joe Coughlin character just doesn't probe into the material in compelling, rather than derivative ways. In turn, the pacing suffers as banality and platitudes mostly pervade even with some smoothly staged shoot-outs and chases. The bogged-down set-up involves prisons and hospitals finally with many an inferred conclusion which underscores the jaded approach.

Affleck's Joe Coughlin is the tough, disillusioned World War I veteran whose experiences led him to choose against an honest living, the prodigal son of a high-ranking Boston cop (Brendan Gleeson), and, the lover of a prominent Mafioso's girlfriend (Sienna Miller of Burnt,Foxcatcher). Boston isn't the city for Joe anymore after the affair ends up sadly awry.

Linking with a competitive family's alcohol trade in the steamy Sunshine State, he'll fall for the cosmopolitan Graciella (Zoe Saldana of Star Trek Beyond). While those quite interested in his new associates as he gets caught up in the same thicket include a crooked cop of a father Chief Irving Figgis (Chris Cooper) to a starlet/preacher Loretta (an attention-grabbing of multi-ethnic descent Elle Fanning - Trumbo, The Neon Demon with much on the docket for the coming year).

There's just not much evidence of the subtle potency, wit and panache of earlier efforts behind and in front of the camera like Gone Baby Gone and Oscar-winner Argo as Affleck's Joe is a pretty inchoate figure kind of like the unstructured screenplay. Though the accomplished filmmaker gets solid efforts from a rough-hewn Cooper (who was in Affleck's compelling The Town) and a feisty Fanning, even if the latter appears to be peripheral to all the venomous stuff going on with folks donning fedoras and speaking in thick accents. Miller and Saldana don't make much of an impression as molls and Chris Messina (Cake,Ruby Sparks, Palo Alto) fares worse in an over-the-top way.

Well, who could expect four for four from Affleck the helmer whose younger brother Casey may justly receive plenty of accolades bestowed on him this awards season for the marvelously nuanced dolor-imbued Manchester By The Sea. His gritty attempt of 'honor among thieves' with a number of bland voice-overs beginning in the chilly crime-infested Boston streets during speakeasies is regretfully unflappable in Live By Night. One which possibly could share a title of an ill-fated, forgotten Johnny Depp semi-autobiographical take on Hunter S. Thompson as a freelance writer in 1960s Puerto Rico, The Rum Diary; though without its raw, if obtuse vitality.

  Frank Chris Jim Dave Nina Matt Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
Live By Night  C+      C-   B                  C+ 

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