Four years after he directed his third movie Argo, Ben Affleck got back both in front of and behind the camera and decided to adapt Dennis Lehane’s book Live By Night. The result is really convincing: a fascinating thriller which takes place during Prohibition and is inspired by the most iconic gangster movies. It was released in France on the 18th of January.
In 2007, when Ben Affleck decided to dabble in directing for the first time, he chose to adapt Gone Baby Gone, a novel written by Dennis Lehane and, with this movie, he met with great critical and commercial success. This year, about a decade later, he decided to plunge into the writer’s work once again, adapting Live By Night, a book that tells us a very classic and thrilling gangster story.
The book and the film focus on the fate of Joseph Coughlin (played by Ben Affleck himself), a middle-aged World War I veteran who became a bank robber when he came back to his hometown of Boston because he wanted to follow his own rules. But, despite his will never to be a real gangster, he is forced to join the criminal clan led by the Italian Maso Pescatore (played by Remo Girone) in order to take revenge on Albert White (Robert Glenister), the chief of the local Irish mafia.
So, in this movie, Ben Affleck immerses the spectators in the peculiar atmosphere of the Roaring 20s in the United States of America when the country had to face Prohibition as well as racial and religious tensions. In order to do so, he films extremely realistic costumes and props. Moreover, he uses the codes of great gangster movies, creating a dark and yet not oppressive atmosphere. For instance, the two mafia bosses resemble the unforgettable characters of such masterpieces as The Godfather or The Goodfellas. Ben Affleck’s performance is also based on this subtle balance between seriousness and casualty which is typical of old thrillers since he keeps the stern attitude that is expected from a bad guy throughout the movie but he sometimes cracks a few jokes.
Nonetheless, since the scenario tackles a great number of questions (Prohibition, mafia, family issues, racism, drugs, religion); the storyline could have seemed a little piecemeal. But, Dennis Lehane and Ben Affleck managed to go straight to the point and keep the screenplay clear from beginning to end.
So, with Live By Night, Dennis Lehane shows, once again, that he is a very talented screenwriter because it should be remembered that he wrote Mystic River and Shutter Island, two other great novels which became very successful films. He also proves us – like some other very talented authors, such as Dan Brown or Harlan Coben, do – that, in order to find a good movie, we can also go to the library.
Live By Night by Ben Affleck, USA, 2016, 2h09, released in Lebanon on the 12th of January 2017, in the United States on the 13th of January 2017 and in France on the 18th of January 2017.