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.
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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.”
(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