Live by Night
by actor/writer/director Ben Affleck
I bought a book a few years back—2000 of the Best Films of All Time—and committed to watching each and every one. As I worked my way through, I was really drawn in by the old gangster movies. Car chases, shootouts, Bogart, Robinson, Muni and, of course, Cagney. Those movies and the unexpected moral certitude of the criminals drew me in and never let me go.
I was also captivated by the scope and scale of epic dramas, like Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, Beatty’s Reds, Wellman’s The Public Enemy, Walsh’s White Heat and Curtiz’s Angels with Dirty Faces. I could get completely lost in them, visually, and I wanted to step into them and be a part of those worlds.
When I read author Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night, I knew that there was something there for anyone who just really likes to have a great time at the movies. I first worked with Dennis on Gone Baby Gone, and his stories are, for me, the definitive mix of character study, saga and all-out action sequences.
For a good part of his adult life, the lead character, Joe Coughlin, is the outsider looking in, by his own choice. A former soldier disillusioned by war, the son of a cop who sees corruption in the system, living in a city rife with crime. Joe sees no life in this world, but the one of his own making. But going his own way doesn’t sit well with the establishment—on either side of the law. Sometimes he follows his heart down the wrong road, too.
So there was this great, conflicted character, living the life of a gangster whether he knew it or not. As if that wasn’t enough, Dennis had set the whole thing in the late 1920s/early ’30s, one of the most turbulent times in our country’s history. We were in the thick of Prohibition. Early days of the Great Depression. It’s set in Boston—which, as you may know, I have an affinity for—and Tampa, two places that couldn’t have been, especially then, more starkly contrasted: cold versus hot, dark versus bright. Two visceral worlds to imagine and bring to life.
I’m all in.