Monday, December 11, 2017
Things To Do

Review: Ybor City-set 'Live by Night' has slick style but a wandering script

Ben Affleck wears too many hats in Live by Night, wrestling to adapt Dennis Lehane's novel and directing in spasms of style. Most ill-fitting are the fedoras and Panamas worn by Affleck the actor, playing a Prohibition-era Florida bootlegger as dashing as dishwater.

Live by Night is the movie set in Ybor City yet filmed in Georgia with production incentives Florida doesn't offer. As such, there's provincial curiosity about Affleck's movie that won't be shared by 49 3/4 other states. Tropical settings and namechecked Tampa streets are practically all that separates Live by Night from countless mob dramas with Tommy guns blazing and pretty molls all in a row.

Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, a World War I veteran resorting to small time heists in Boston. His police chief father (an excellent Brendan Gleeson) looks the other way until he can't, after an Irish mob boss (Robert Glenister) is targeted and Joe steals his dame (Sienna Miller). Live by Night gets a jaunty if familiar start, with moody shootouts and tough talk in back rooms.

INTERVIEW: Affleck talks 'Live by Night,' building Ybor City in Georgia

Crossing one mobster makes Joe a benefit to another, an Italian bootlegger (Remo Girone) hiring him to run operations in Ybor City. Joe scrams, leaving behind everything except a torch he'll carry and we'll forget until Affleck the scripter clumsily reminds us, too late to register.

Around the 30 minute mark, Live by Night starts making us somewhat feel at home, a century ago. A train carrying Joe and his crony Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) chugs into a town marked Ybor City, dusty yet thriving with Cuban immigrant energy. Production designer Jess Gonchor turned a patch of Brunswick, Ga. into an impressive facsimile, with Robert Richardson's camera caressing the cigar factories, nightclubs and juke joints.

GEORGIA-FLORIDA LINE: Fake Ybor City stars in Ben Affleck's new film

Looks aren't everything in movies, but sometimes that's all Live by Night has going for it. Lehane's novel is a trove of west Florida history bullet points, spun into sprawling fiction Affleck never manages to control. Conflict shifts with the locale; instead of competing mobs Joe faces opposition from Tampa police chief Irving Figgis (Chris Cooper, great as usual), who knows there will be crime but doesn't want bloodshed. The chief's daughter Loretta (Elle Fanning) is an aspiring Hollywood starlet and third act drag.

Live by Night shuffles from one subplot to the next, most of them interesting but unfulfilled as Affleck tries to cover everything in two hours. Joe's feud with a Ku Klux Klan member (Matthew Maher) about hiring Afro-Cuban workers would be enough for a thrilling mob tale with a twist. Romance with a local (Zoe Saldana) adds spice if not momentum. There's a Boston mob invasion on the way but that's the least of Joe's worries, or the film's.

Loretta returns from Hollywood under sordid circumstances and becomes an evangelist, railing against demon rum and gambling. Thing is, Joe is building a swanky casino in nearby Longboat Key (movie geography, you know). Live by Night becomes a battle of politely expressed wills, including a despicable reveal that might be crushing if Affleck conveyed the necessary internal conflict for his character.

Affleck certainly looks the part, tearing through Jacqueline West's snappy retro designs rack like a runway stud. Live by Night could inspire a new Oscar category for hats alone. But after haberdasher fascination wanes, you notice the face underneath Affleck's hats seldom offers much beyond a square jaw and determined gaze.

Live by Night is ambitious to a fault, with so much material and technical pizzazz that a cable miniseries format might have been a better way to go. That sense of over-reaching stretches to Affleck, whose slack acting is likely due to keeping a sure hand on everything else getting done. Perhaps if he hadn't needed to build an Ybor City...

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Comments
What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

MondaySEASON FINALE: The Gifted, 9 p.m., Fox: The team at Mutant HQ is divided on what to do next after Jace is forced to hand over something valuable to Dr. Campbell.Disney's Fairytale Weddings: Holiday Magic, 8 p.m., Freeform: A behind-the-scenes l...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Watch: New ‘Ready Player One’ trailer is instant classic

Watch: New ‘Ready Player One’ trailer is instant classic

Have you seen the first full trailer for Ready Player One? Here it is. It debuted Sunday, and a million '80s nerds all cried out in joy. Like the book by Ernest Cline, it just dazzles. It looks like Steven Spielberg is back in top form again. (Sorry,...
Updated: 3 hours ago
‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War-era fairytale "The Shape of Water" swam away with a leading seven nominations from the Golden Globes, while the HBO drama "Big Little Lies" led the television nominees with six nods.The nominees for best picture drama ar...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

TAMPA Just a block away from CW’s Gin Joint, the folks at Urban Juice Co. have retooled, taking the historic Franklin building, one of the city’s oldest, erected in 1895, and re-envisioning it in September as 1895 Kitchen-Bar-Market, a "...
Published: 12/11/17
Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

A new documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried reveals someone more mild-mannered than his stage persona, married with children, verging on dull.His voice doesn’t grate, dropping half its nasal quality and all of its foul-mouthed bluster. Shy win...
Published: 12/11/17

Monday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballBryant at Louisville7 p.m.ESPNUChicago State at Northwestern7 p.m.FS1Drake at Minnesota8 p.m.Big TenAlabama A&M at DePaul9 p.m.FS1NBAHeat at Grizzlies8 p.m.Fox SunPelicans at Rockets8 p.m.NBARaptors at Clippers10:30 p.m.NBANFLP...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

ST. PETERSBURG — In some ways, the Florida Orchestra’s gala with Sting looked like other concerts of a mega-star. Most of the fans who packed the Mahaffey Theater bought their tickets the day they went on sale. They cheered and sang along at the open...
Published: 12/10/17
Sting performs with the Florida Orchestra for 50th Anniversary Gala

Sting performs with the Florida Orchestra for 50th Anniversary Gala

Sting, bottom, and Michael Francis, Music Director of the Florida Orchestra, top, perform with the Florida Orchestra during the Florida Orchestra's 50th Anniversary Gala celebration at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES ...
Published: 12/10/17

Sunday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballTulane vs. Florida StatenoonESPNU; 1010-AMLa Salle at Villanova1 p.m.FS1Women: Marshall at Florida1 p.m.SECArizona State at Kansas2 p.m.ESPNWomen: Texas at Tennessee3 p.m.ESPN2Women: SE Louisiana at TCU3 p.m.Fox SunSouthern at ...
Published: 12/09/17
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Dec. 11-17

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Dec. 11-17

Katy Perry: The Teenage Dream songstress roars into Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Friday ($45.75-$195.75). amaliearena.com. Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights begins Tuesday, bringing fun celebrations including Hanukkah in the City at the Sundial St. Petersb...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/10/17