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Film Review: 'Live By Night' Combines Gangster Classics to Explore Mobster Psyche

by Todd A. Smith


(Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures) 

Cause and Effect 


What causes one to enter a world of crime?

What happens in one’s life to make them disregard the law and the livelihood of others for their own personal gains?

And what consequences occur from one fateful or fatal decision that sends one’s life spiraling out of control to a place beyond repair?

By all accounts, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) has a comfortable life in “Live By Night,” being the son of a Boston police officer.

He is not immune from the real world though, fighting for his country in World War I.

While some soldiers became heroes on their return to the States, Joe becomes an outlaw, gladly taking a dishonorable discharge because his future life as an armed robber does not require an honorable discharge.

Being in the service has made him a bandit and a borderline killer, even though he sometimes does not have the stomach necessary for a killer.

Joe falls in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), the girlfriend of notorious Irish gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister).

Together they team up to rob a card game sponsored by White.

Word gets around Boston quickly about the robbery.

When approached by Italian gangster Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) about settling a score with his rival Albert White, Joe refuses to work with Maso, stating that he does not want to get involved with gangsters.

However, when Maso spills the beans to Albert about Joe and Emma’s illicit affair, the son of a police officer finds himself at odds with the two biggest gangsters in town as well as local law enforcement officials.

When Joe finally decides to team up with one of the gangsters to bring down their rival, it sets his life on a course of violence, vice and vendettas even when he tries to go legit.

“Live By Night” is like a combination of every film and television show in the gangster genre canon.

With his trip to Florida, and dreams of setting up casinos, “Live By Night” contains elements of “The Godfather: Part II.”

With its emphasis on bootlegging and the Ku Klux Klan, “Live By Night” has elements of the television show, “Boardwalk Empire.”

And with Joe’s efforts to go legitimate after so many years in organized crime, “Live By Night” contains elements of “The Godfather: Part III.”

With all of those ingredients from past classics, and solid performances by Affleck, Zoe Saldana and pop star Miguel, “Live By Night” creates its own situation.

The Spanish, Irish and Italian accents also all seem genuine and not overdone.

Unfortunately with so much going on, “Live By Night” should have let some stories develop visually on screen and not just through narration from the character Joe.

“Live By Night” does a great job of showcasing the effects of a life of crime.


However, the film should have done a little better job of developing the cause of Joe’s involvement in organized crime.






This article was published on Friday 13 January, 2017.
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