Most movie critics live by night, but what they actually do is not write about cinema. I will go out on a limb here and buck the general consensus. "Live by Night" is Affleck's finest film to date. It isn't only the acting, it isn't only Zoe Saldana that could make 100,000 ships sail, it isn't only Chris Copper and Elle Fanning's brilliant performances, it is the theme of this film. A theme missed by almost all critics. This is NOT "The Town,"
a worse film than this one, though still noteworthy. Almost like Ewan McGregor's "American Pastoral," this is a film about a man who makes up his morals as he moves along life. "Live by Night" is an old gangster expression about the gritty life of blood that took place after dark; it is also about people living by their own personal dark night, "night" as a metaphor. There is a story here for those who bother to actually watch the film. It is about a man who rises to wealth among foreigners, not his people, the Irish. A man who would shoot a woman abuser, but never shoot a woman. He hates racism and is chivalrous in a fashion, and that paradigm leads him to find love with the Cuban daughter of his rum supplier (Zoe Saldana). This is no love for a day, but middle-class home love. He will swear by it, as much as he will swear to crush his Irish nemesis, Albert White (Brendan Gleeson). He is betrayed throughout his hard Boston life, but finds honesty and stability among the Cubans in Tampa who never betray him. This is not ethnically-correct filmmaking, it is the very accurate story of how old stereotypes die less hard than believed. In this way, Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a hero; his father thinks he is a wise ass, not becoming a respectable policeman and has his crew beat him up to make the point. As Coughlin says over and over again, "I am not a gangster, I am not a hit man". He makes money not to make money but to survive and eventually to allow his family to survive. This gorgeously shot film (you can get the Cinematographer right off the bat) is not maudlin. Coughlin's love for his wife is absolute and unassailable, as is his love for his son. There is nothing cheap, clichéd or embellished when he breaks down when his wife is shot dead, and when he has her buried in her native Cuba. This IS a thinking man's film, no matter what the critics say. About redemption, repentance, evil, good, love and destiny. As Coughlin says (what he learned from his father and from his partners), "Heaven is now" meaning not after death and not next year, but now, in the moment. And if you do not watch this film with respect and follow the theme portrayed here, I am afraid you will lose that moment. Affleck (like Quarterback Tom Brady in some ways) is not well-liked in some quarters. Yes, he is stolid and speaks what is on his mind (not rare in Falmouth or Boston or Marblehead). Let him speak to you in this movie. In my opinion, Affleck has pulled one over on the critics and they just refuse to see it.