Movie Review for Live By Night (2016)

Live By Night (2016) is a crime drama set largely in America during the era of Prohibition in the United States. The film follows on the heels of the 2012 book by the same title, which was referenced in this book review by Matt Lynn Digital.

Live By Night Movie 2 - Chris Messina as Dion Bartolo, left, and Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin, right (Chris Messina as Dion Bartolo, left, and Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin, right)

Ben Affleck played Joe Coughlin in the movie adaptation of the book Live By Night, which introduced us to the central question of family and whether a gangster can remain moral. The clear answer is no, though the notion of ethics is strong in this movie as well as the Dennis Lehane book. Affleck wrote the screenplay, produced the film, and obviously served as a central star within the action. The tension between Coughlin and his father, a corrupted former Boston police captain damaged by a long string of willfulness and his son Joe’s occupation, are treated in an upfront if understated way in the film.

Live By Night Movie 3 - Brendan Gleeson as Thomas Coughlin(Brendan Gleeson as Thomas Coughlin, the father of Ben Affleck‘s character Joe Coughlin)

The film begins in Boston during a stick-up, wherein Joe Coughlin swears revenge on a love interest of a love interest that motivates Coughlin to run liquor in the Cuban section of Tampa, Florida known as Ybor City. To do so, Coughlin goes to work for Maso Pescatore, whose relationship to Thomas Coughlin is diminished in the on-screen portrayal given the pair in this movie. While the nuance here isn’t necessarily important to the larger story, the full dynamic between the two Coughlin’s is lost. A comparative examination of the Coughlins to Mason and Digger Pescatore is also lost.

Live By Night Movie 4 - Chris Cooper as Maso Pescatore(Remo Girone as Maso Pescatore)

The relationship between Loretta Figgis and Chief Figgis of the Tampa Police are given slightly more treatment in the movie than they received in the book. That is, the ultimate fate of the the police chief in this father/daughter relationship exceeds that for which we were given by Dennis Lehane in the book.

Live By Night Movie 7 - Dennis Lehane(Dennis Lehane, author of the book Live By Night)

An entanglement between Maso Pescatore, Joe Coughlin, and the two Figgis’ does get a fair and full treatment from the movie and the book. The revenge angle that Coughlin had with mobster Albert White is given short shrift in the movie, ultimately leading to the elevation of Chief Figgis in the movie.

Live By Night Movie 4 - Elle Fanning as Loretta Figgis(Elle Fanning as Loretta Figgis)

Largely, the movie adaptation of Live By Night suffered from some of the same focus problems that existed in the movie. That is, both tried to be too many things. As pointed out by a Ted Kluck review in the Jackson Sun of Tennessee, “in part because [the movie] couldn’t decide whether to be a thinky art-piece or a traditional shoot-’em-up gangster movie[,]….it failed to be either.”

Live By Night Movie 6 - Remo Girone as Chief Figgis(Chris Cooper as Chief Figgis)

The characters largely end up with the proper disposition at the end of the movie, meaning that they were true to the book. I personally prefer for things to work out like that between books and movies, inasmuch as the larger narrative of characters get to be explored fully. I enjoyed the movie, though I will say that the movie falls short of some of the best in the genre. For readers of the book, you owe yourself a viewing of the movie.

Matt – Wednesday, August 1, 2018


Completing Dennis Lehane’s loose trilogy of novels in ‘World Gone By’

The three books of Dennis Lehane‘s Coughlin trilogy follow an unexpected path in telling three distinct stories that are only loosely connected by a cast of common characters over many years. While ostensibly about one family, the narrative arc of the three books rather connects two brothers (a cop and a gangster) first through their father in The Given Day and then Live By Night. The larger story then pivots to the story of a gangster aiming to get out of the business while losing every semblance of family in Live By Night and World Gone By.

World Gone By 2 - Dennis Lehane(Dennis Lehane)

Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of Boston Police Department captain Thomas Coughlin, is the unmitigated star of the books Live By Night and World Gone By. Climbing the corporate ladder of  the Italian mob takes Joe from his Irish family in Boston, Massachusetts to Ybor City, Florida near Tampa to Havana, Cuba. The era of Prohibition and illegal booze are the racket. Joe is highly competent, highly profitable, and highly troubled as far as his love interests, loyalty to the family he cultivates in the mob, and functioning a mob syndicate amongst the intrigue of those gunning for him, regardless of his conscience.

World Gone By 3(World Gone By)

World Gone By is a clear sequel to Live By Night in tone, style, and subject matter. That The Given Day even existed adds nothing to this tale, as the story looks to tie up loose ends from the story of Live By Night. Joe works as the consigliere to the crime family headed by his former partner Dion Bartolo. Bartolo is the family Joe has, in addition to his son. Joe’s wife, Graciela, was killed at the end of Live By Night. To me, World Gone By is a book length examination of regret, recrimination, and the workings of an author (Lehane) and a mobster (Joe Coughlin) who wanted better for themselves but had to suffer through more story than they could execute. It is an irony that Joe loses his son in the way Thomas Coughlin emotionally loses both of his sons through the trilogy. Joe lost his son by killing Dion. Thomas lost Joe and his other son through different degrees of alienation in the three book trilogy.

World Gone By 4(The Given Day, Live By Night, and World Gone By)

Thomas Coughlin appears in Live By Night and the opening book of the series, The Given Day. The Given Day is a historical novel that looks into the stories of two main characters, namely Aiden “Danny” Coughlin of Boston and Luther Laurence, a talented black amateur baseball player from Columbus, Ohio. Their stories intersect in bringing out compelling narrative pitted against the 1919 Boston Police Strike for Danny, the  Tulsa Race Riot against Black Wall Street for Luther, the shame that former Red Sox and Yankee baseball player Babe Ruth about the prohibition against blacks in baseball and baseball’s unfair financial structure, and a few other story lines.

In getting into subjects of class tension, racial tension, poverty, economic instability, political corruption, and so much more, The Given Day was an outstanding book of its own accord. That the book incorporates historical events and people so well made for high expectation for the series for me. Live By Night and World Gone By, while not bad and decent reflections of tensions with the story of an upswing of 20th century mob activity in America and Cuba, quite simply places a blemish upon The Given Day by bringing in characters that only tangentially relate to what may be the best accomplishment of Lehane’s writing career. In comparison, these two suffer by bringing less history into their telling. These are statements more for the first book than against the second and third books.

World Gone By 5(Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin in the movie Live By Night (2016))

Ben Affleck played Joe Coughlin in the 2016 movie adaptation of the book Live By Night, which of course introduced us to the central question of family and whether a gangster can remain moral. The clear answer is no, though the notion of ethics is strong in the second and third books. World Gone By continued with the fallout of family and the ethical lifestyle, and to a certain respect feels to me like The Godfather: Part III (1990) feels for many who like the Godfather movie franchise…that the first two movies are clearly better. My feel is that I am not clear what fans of Dennis Lehane‘s work received in the third installment of this trilogy of books. More clearly, Live By Night as a standalone book with no relation between Joe, Danny, and Thomas Coughlin would have been best. Having Live By Night exist without World Gone By also would have been good for the Joe Coughlin and Dion Bartolo story.

My personal rating of the book World Gone By is 3.25-stars out of five (5).

Matt – Tuesday, June 12, 2018