Guys, we need to talk about Ben*. No! Not Ben Stiller or Ben Foster. I’m talking about Hollywood’s golden son, the other Ben…Ben Affleck (aka THEE Batman). There’s no other way to put this: This guy has lost his marbles.
After seeing, Ben Affleck’s 65 million dollar flick Live By Night, it is clear that this old sport has gone off the deep end. There is no other explanation for his wonky script other than that he has bat on the brain. I suppose there could be other reasons, but my theory is: this guy forgot which script he was working on when he wrote this thing. There’s no going back for Ben Affleck, he is the Bat now (#batlife). He is in cape and cowl 24/7. This is why he thought a gangster vigilante story would work.
The movie opens with Batman narrating (sigh) to the audience informing us just exactly what it meant to live in the 1920s…you know with prohibition, mobs, and stuff. While he is busy mansplaining to us one of the most infamous eras in history, we witness on screen all of the things he is telling us about. There was a line from the film that pretty much summed up the entire two hours and eight minutes I spent watching this thing: “same note, same message.” Another way to say this: redundant. There is no need to tell us what is happening if you are showing us. You are making a movie right? You know, the type of art form where you use moving pictures on the screen to explain your story. Here’s an idea for your next gangster romp: Simply flash a title card with the date 1920s on it, cut to booze secretly being loaded into a basement, and all of a sudden BOOM a dude falls from the rooftop. Gosh Batman, we get it: prohibition. 1920 means prohibition, prohibition means no booze, no booze means why even live?
So 1920s. Boston. Batman. Ben Affleck plays the main character Joe Coughlin, a gangster that thinks he is good (christ). As Joe tells us, “he once left for war as a soldier and returned as an outlaw.” However, the movie poster tells us “Joe was once a good man.” Holy confusion, Batman. Joe is a lot of things: a soldier, an outlaw, Batman, a gangster, a vigilante…who are you Joe? Even after watching the flick, I’m still not sure. One thing I did pick up on quickly was that Joe had a serious thing for the mob boss’ girl, Emma Gould (played by Sienna Miller). A fling he was hoping to keep secret. Too bad another mob cronie finds out and attempts to use this knowledge to blackmail Joe. Joe’s secret can stay hush hush, all he has to do is join this dude’s gang. But Joe, being Batman (and an outlaw) won’t be pushed around, nor will he live a life of organized crime. Instead, he would rather just be a disorganized outlaw.
Well, of course this didn’t work out to swell for Joe. Emma’s mob boyfriend finds out and Joe ends up getting knocked around. All the while, his lady friend is hauled off to be slaughtered. Luckily though, Joe’s daddy cop (played by Brendan Gleeson) is there to save him. He even manages to get Joe a lesser sentence for the bank heist he pulled (Joe’s dad also seems to disappear from the film directly after…lucky him). Oh which reminds me! I completely forgot that I witnessed one of the most boring car chases ever right before this scene. I’ve seriously seen better in Rockford Files. Oh well. Sooooooooooooo the movie keeps going. Before Joe serves his time in the big house, he is informed Emma has died. After hearing this news, Joe informs us (of course it was voice narration) that there is now nothing else to live for except getting revenge on the floozie’s mob boyfriend. This scene in particular is what prompted me to look up the cinematographer because if you looked up “lazy lighting” this scene would most definitely be referenced. Turns out, the cinematographer was: Robert Richardson. Honestly, I was shocked. This is the same dude behind many of that old sport, Quentin Tarantino’s flicks and one of my favorite films, The Aviator (WAY OF THE FUTURE). I suppose if we are going to point fingers, I guess we point them at Director Batfleck. Seriously though, this scene was troublesome: cut to Joe…BRIGHT…cut back to the Dad… DARK. Til’ my eyes would adjust it would cut again. At first I was annoyed and then I just thought: wow, I just can’t care.
OK. Let’s just back up for a moment: This is a huge plot point here. This is the when the writer/director informs us that he is going to have our asses in the seats for the next two hours and eight minutes to watch a dude seek out revenge for a dead floozie (sorry, but she was) that he feels he will NEVER EVER EVER EVER get over. (Um, OK.) But listen, in all seriousness this is the moment when Batman decides to be a gangster.
Welllll, now that Joe has nothing left to live for he has decided a career in the mob seems like the best idea ever. Immediately after leaving prison he is in meetings with yet another mob boss and hopping a jet plane down to Florida to run the business in Ybor City. Of course, there is also an ulterior motive to this plan. Joe has convinced himself that this is the only way that he can get back at the guy that killed his little floozie. By being on the inside he can run the businesses in Florida making it harder for floozie’s killer to run his. This all seems like it is gonna work until until he meets Zoe Saldana and guess what: floozie forgotten.
So Joe spends time in Florida. As the movie tells us, he is a “business man, who does business”. Joe becomes a man about town, living an exciting life filled with exciting people: Police Chief Figgis (played by Chris Cooper), his pal Dion (played by Chris Messina), and Graciela (played by Zoe Saldana). Batman also has many adventures along the way: he enters the real estate market and tries to build a casino, has a tiff with the smallest group of KKK members ever, and an altercation with Chief Figgis’ preaching daughter (played by Elle Fanning). This story was all over the place and the ending is nothing but the same: an eye-rolling flop.
Overall the thing that was most troubling to me was that Ben Affleck was truly trying to say that this guy wasn’t that bad. All the blood that was spilled we were supposed to shrug off and say: well he is doing it for the floozie, so it’s fine. I kinda wonder how many mob centric movies or shows Affleck has watched? Gangsters are NOT vigilantes. Mobsters are NOT good people. Tony Soprano, Nucky Thompson, Don Vito Corleone- these were great gangster characters and the reason is: they knew exactly who they were and we loved them for that. They were honest with us: they were bad men doing bad things. Joe was a bad man who thought he was good. Affleck is a director who made a bad film. *At the end of the day I am still left wondering: Why doesn’t Hollywood let Lynne Ramsay direct a film?