Live by Night: how the gangster film went from top of the world to sleeping with the fishes

Mobster movies were once the pinnacle of film-making. Ben Afflecks homage to the classics could sound the genres death knell

It is rarely a good sign to find yourself yowling with laughter while watching a film thats supposed to lull you into solemn contemplation. There are a few such moments in Live by Night, Ben Afflecks love letter to and hopefully death knell of the classic Hollywood gangster flick. I recommend smuggling some bingo cards into the cinema (and some illicit rum cocktails) so you can at least make a game of its cliches.

There are speakeasies aplenty, all of them jumping. There are double-crossing molls. There are corrupt Irish policemen, Italian-American hoodlums with Tommy guns, and showdowns in the shadowy corridors of fancy hotels. Im pretty sure someone calls someone else a knucklehead at one point. And there is no shot of Ben Affleck (yes, he stars as well as produces and directs) that does not underline just how much Joe Coughlin, the gangster hero he portrays, is on the right side of American history. We are never left in any doubt that his mobster is someone to whom we should all aspire. You realise that to be free in this life, runs his voiceover, breaking the rules means nothing. You have to be strong enough to make your own. Full house!

Live by Night is an adaptation of Boston author Dennis Lehanes novel (Affleck also adapted his Gone Baby Gone). While not exactly a disaster, its something of a cautionary tale. After winning the best picture Oscar for Argo four years ago, Affleck had the rare opportunity to make whatever movie he wanted: It was sort of pick what you want to do and this is what I wanted to do, he said. I wanted to make a classic Warners picture.

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