Live By Night is perhaps a bit too busy for its own good, leaving lesser-developed scenes to play out squarely on their actors’ noses, and secondary characters with little to do (Affleck and romantic interest Zoe Saldana smolder convincingly, but boy is hers a nothing-burger of a role). And while his sturdy performance anchors the ensemble nicely, Affleck himself comes up a bit short emotionally in the clutch.
But he remains a fine filmmaker. The dialogue is sharp, but not overly clever (“Put yourself on that train, Gary L, or we’re gonna have to put you under it”), and he stages two very fine action sequences: a tightly-wound getaway gone awry, and a climactic shoot-out that’s pitched like a knuckleball. His first feature as a director, Gone Baby Gone, was also a Lahane adaptation, and this film doesn’t match that one (indeed, none of his still-awfully-good subsequent efforts have). But in its best moments, it recaptures not only that picture’s craftsmanship, but its soul.
Live By Night is out Christmas Day in limited release. It opens wide on January 13.