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Live by Night (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 129 minutes.

Not for children.

I’m a sucker for good period pieces and with some exceptions this is a good one. Produced and directed by Ben Affleck, he also wrote the screenplay which is based on the award-winning bestseller by Dennis Lehane. This is the same collaboration that produced Gone Baby Gone, for which Affleck won an Oscar®.

Affleck has a fine cast which includes Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleason, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, and Chris Cooper. Miller gives such a good performance I didn’t recognize her as one of the most beautiful women in the world. But, except for Affleck, they’re all terrific.

Set in the period between 1927-33, locations are Boston and Tampa, Florida, which are lovingly re-created, especially the cars. There is even a car chase in the old 1927 automobiles.

Affleck plays a strange type of bad guy, though. He’s supposed to be a sociopathic killer, but that never really comes across. He should have watched how Warren Beatty recreated a real sociopath, the charming Bugsy Siegel, in Bugsy (1991). There are points in that relatively weak film when the real evil resident in Bugsy, his irrationality and narcissism, come out and Beatty nails it. Affleck apparently just doesn’t have the range to duplicate that. He’s just the same old Ben we’ve seen in every movie in which he’s acted, so it leaves his character as little more than Pablum. Ben should stick to directing and leave the acting to others.

Another weakness of the movie is a shootout near the end that so lacks credibility it reminds one of the old John Wayne westerns that the Duke shot under Lone Star and Republic in the thirties at the same time that Warner Bros. was creating the gangster film with Jimmy Cagney, Bogey, and Edward G. Robinson that this film claims to emulate.

Then there’s Affleck’s Hollywood values that he apparently feels required to put into his film. But in today’s world, one must close one’s eyes to that or stop going to movies.

And that’s a shame because this is a good, if hackneyed, story with atmospheric locales. It would have been so much better without such a phony anticlimax. In fact, it completely lost me throughout the scenes, another of those with thousands of bullets flying around in a very small space but none of the good guys, and I use that term advisedly, get scratched.

But I liked the rest of it if you can put up with Affleck’s inadequate range.