Ben Affleck’s new film, “Live by Night,” focuses on an antihero who runs booze and plots to build a casino. In an age in which marijuana is being legalized across the country and casinos are everywhere, does a Prohibition-era gangster flick really stand a chance?
Perhaps — if viewers remain in a retro frame of mind, thanks to “La La Land.” But it’s one big leap of faith.
“I had been watching a lot of the old ’30s and ’40s Warner movies one summer, and I was really getting into that style, that energy,” recalled the actor and director, whose homage to the genre opens in theaters this Friday.
"And it was the same summer that I got sent this book" — the book being the 2012 Dennis Lehane novel that Affleck's movie is based on. "So I was really getting into these pictures, and then all of a sudden I get this book that Dennis wrote that was just this spectacular love letter to classic Hollywood films, to the old gangster movies, and also to the days when 'Hollywood blockbuster' meant extras and sweep and scale."
Lehane's résumé sure is formidable: 11 novels (a 12th, "Since We Fell," comes out in May); a collection of short stories; a script for "The Drop," based on his short story "Animal Rescue" (his novel "The Drop" was based on the script); the play "Coronado," based on his short story "Until Gwen"; and teleplays for episodes of "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Wire."
Coughlin is embittered by his time in the ranks serving overseas in the first world war, disgusted by what he deems the senseless slaughter and officer-class callousness.
"Live by Night" is based on Lehane's 2012 gangster novel. Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, a character initially introduced as a young boy in Lehane's 2008 book "The Given Day" — the first in his Coughlin trilogy. Now, at age 20, he's gone the criminal route and begun the journey that will take him from robberies in Boston to running the rum trade in Tampa in the waning days of Prohibition.
Coughlin is embittered by his time in the ranks serving overseas in World War I, disgusted by what he deems the senseless slaughter and officer-class callousness. Once back in Prohibition-era Boston, he becomes a robber and a stick-up man, a freebooting outlaw who sleeps by day and lives by night, with no gang allegiances, and has a passionate affair with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), the mistress of Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister).
This matches Affleck's outspoken liberal sensibilities, that's for sure — a disdain for the officer class, a war the soldier feels shouldn't be fought, and so on.
We've seen Affleck the runner before, too, in "Runner Runner." But this film asks moviegoers to recall a time when booze was illegal, in an age when weed almost isn't anymore.
The costumer and set designer have their work cut out for them on "Live by Night" — as there will need to be a constant reminder that these are days gone by, especially at a time where booze and casinos are the most popular commercials during the Super Bowl.