This is not a hatchet job on Ben Affleck.
For the record, I think he's a decent actor. He was particularly good in Changing Lanes, Hollywoodland and Gone Girl. I liked all three of the films he directed before this one - Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo. Solid, respectable efforts. And let's not forget that he's won Oscars for direction and scriptwriting.
The guy's got talent.
However, little of this talent is on show in his latest, Live By Night. To be blunt, Live By Night is a mess. A good-looking mess, sure, (it's handsomely photographed by Robert Richardson) but as a whole, this is a shockingly sub-par effort by Mr Affleck, who not only directs but wrote the adapted screenplay and takes the central role.
Night is an adaptation of the book by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Gone Baby Gone. It starts off in Prohibition era Boston, with Ben's bad boy character having to relocate at short notice. He's in debt to one of the local gangster bosses and so is encouraged to go sort out some problems down in Florida .Once down there. Affleck's character starts butting heads with the Florida branch of the Ku Klux Klan, whilst his plans to build a sprawling casino are dangerously undermined by the local church.
Live By Night isn't a lively movie. Affleck sleepwalks through it, dressed to the nines but mumbling his lines. It's a sign of a bad film when the lead character is the most uninteresting one in the cast. The script (also by Affleck) is similarly dozy, with his narration clearly an attempt to paper over the cracks in the plot. There is a horrible, horrible plot contrivance in the third act - a bullshit coincidence that may well be in the book but one that Academy Award screenwriter and director Ben Affleck should have yanked out at first sight.
This is a beautifully photographed facade of a gangster film, with no grit or guts under its glossy surface. It's a stumble for Affleck but the quality of his earlier films is surely enough to not write him off just yet.