Ben Affleck adapts author Dennis Lehane's "Live By Night" into a stylish feature film, but does not achieve the heights of their previous collaboration, Gone Baby Gone. The second book in a Prohibition-era trilogy, "Live By Night" is both less involved and less involving than its predecessor, "The Given Day," which lends itself to an HBO miniseries treatment given its overstuffed plot. Here, viewers meet Joe Coughlin (Affleck), the son of Boston police captain Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson). Joe Coughlin eschews the law and instead participates in a number of minor robberies, which lands him in the grasp of Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister). When Coughlin messes with White's girl, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), he avoids an untimely demise by serving three years in prison for a previous crime. Once released, Coughlin goes to Ybor City outside Tampa, Florida, to work for rival mob boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) and his rum empire.
Attractively lensed by Robert Richardson, a cinematographer with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Oliver Stone credits, Live By Night opens with a montage of the violence in Boston caused by the war between Irish and Italian mobsters. Coughlin still has a conscience, so he rejects an offer to work for White, and instead continues knocking off businesses and banks alongside his local buddies. White finds out about Coughlin and Gould and tries to have the pair killed. Joe's dad comes to the rescue, and bribes a local district attorney for a lenient three-year sentence on a previous robbery. His desire to work in Florida is fueled by vengeance, and getting in good with Pescatore is the quickest way to get back at White. Coughlin rejoins partner Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina), falls in love with local beauty Graciela Corrales (Zoe Saldana), and allies with Sheriff Irving Figgis (Chris Cooper), who has a brother in the upper ranks of the Ku Klux Klan.
The mob and the KKK are in violent opposition, and the Clan begins bombing Coughlin's clubs and killing his men. Live By Night strides from one conflict to the next, presenting slick, sometimes superficial drama. This drama is bloody and arresting, but the film feels more like a chilly, stylish noir than a compelling, character-driven drama. As is often the case when literature is compressed into a two-hour film, Affleck hints at but never fully does justice to themes of racial disparity, class warfare, temperance and religious fervor. When the sheriff's daughter, Loretta (Elle Fanning), falls short of Hollywood and into heroin addiction and prostitution, Coughlin uses her return as leverage to turn Figgis against his brother. This backfires when a saved Loretta begins preaching against gambling and Coughlin's under-construction hotel.
The acting is quite good here, and it is obvious Affleck put in ample time scouting interesting locations in which to stage the narrative. According to Affleck, this labor of love took him two years to bring to the screen, and his irritation during its press tour over repeated questions about The Batman, which he is no longer directing, was palpable. Such is life, and Live By Night is certainly not Lehane or Affleck's best work. There are many things this film adaptation gets right, such as acting, cinematography and production design. The drama could be stronger, and the extended opening, with its rambunctious action sequences, should have been shortened to allow the narrative proper some breathing room. Live By Night is imperfect, but this gangster noir is handsomely shot and entertaining, and is still recommended.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image from Warner Brothers is excellent. The digitally shot material maintains a natural appearance. Fine-object detail is abundant, and wide shots offer crisp detail that stretches far into the background. Skin tones are natural, and the somewhat subdued color scheme is expertly saturated. Blacks are inky, and I noticed only minor crush in nighttime and indoor scenes. Other than brief aliasing, this is a largely problem-free transfer.
The disc offers a Dolby Atmos mix and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. I sampled the Atmos track in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, and it is very impressive. Dialogue is clear and expertly reproduced. There are abundant environmental effects like street noise and traffic, and these are given subtly effective leverage in the surrounds. The action sequences are chaotic and exciting. Gunfire erupts across the sound field, bullets streak through the rear speakers, and the subwoofer supports the clattering of wrecking cars and explosions. The score, from Harry Gregson-Williams, is appropriately layered and rich in tone. Lossy French, Spanish and Portuguese dubs are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a standard eco-case. An insert offers an UltraViolet HD digital copy code. You get a couple of decent featurettes: Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live By Night (8:54/HD), with input from Miller and Saldana; The Men of Live By Night (8:30/HD), about the male gangsters; Live By Night's Prolific Author (6:53/HD), which is an interview with Lehane; and In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase (7:35/HD), which focuses on the action sequences. You also get a Commentary by Director Affleck, DP Richardson and Production Designer Jess Gonchor and Five Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Affleck (15:56/HD).
Ben Affleck again adapts a Dennis Lehane novel into a feature film, but does not achieve the heights of previous collaboration Gone Baby Gone. This Prohibition-era gangster noir is stylishly shot and well acted, but Affleck's film glosses over interesting themes of racial injustice, temperance, and religious fervor. Still, there are enough good things in Live By Night to warrant a viewing. Recommended.