Then his modestly budgeted Boston-set private eye directorial debut dropped and not only was it very good, it was arguably a modern American crime classic. A morality tale that was as much about the city it was set in as it was about a missing girl and was typical of the kind of deep emotional complexities scribe Denis Lahane is famed for.
It's no surprise then, that here, in LIVE BY NIGHT, Affleck's fourth film as writer-director should also have its source with Lahane once again although it's more closely aligned with his second film THE TOWN.
In it the Square-Jawed One plays Joe Coughlin, a small-time Boston gangster and son of Police Chief Tom (Brendan Gleeson) who makes it his business to stay in the middle of the warring Irish and Italian factions that rule his town. But when Irish head-honcho Albert White (Robert Glennister) discovers Benny-Boy is banging his girl (Sienna Miller) he makes everybody's life miserable, forcing Joe in to bed with the Italians who ship him off to run their bootleg operations in Tampa where he must seize control, forge business relations, battle the Ku-Klux Klan and make a play for minor politics.
'Sprawling epic' is an overstatement but LIVE BY NIGHT's two-hour plus running time never feels stretched. It's thickly plotted but it never feels crowded. It's got remarkable breathing space and Affleck changes gears seamlessly, jarring us with explosive violence one minute and then soft intimate tear-jerky moments the next. It's also a treat to see Affleck make reaches as a director. LIVE BY NIGHT may not be the thematic juggernaut that GBG was, nor does Joe have the richness of the characters in THE TOWN, but it is certainly his most richly crafted film. Even if it does do everything you expect it to, it does them well.
This is an homage to the pulpy, hard boiled gangster tales of old replete with sharp dialogue, sharper suits and Tommy-guns. Jess Gonchor's production design is textured and elegant and is the real star of the show. It's prohibition-era aesthetic stretches from snow-covered Boston bank robberies all the way to the sun-soaked glades and speakeasies of the Florida Keys. Everything feels timely and functional, used and worn, utilitarian.
Close behind Gonchor is cinematographer Robert Richardson, hot off the back of Tarantino's famed HATEFUL EIGHT shoot, here dipping his toe again into the kind of territory he revels in; period-set, violent dramas.
So, then, not a jaw-meet-floor experience, but certainly better than the recent Kevin James release, which begs the question why did it disappear without a trace? Could it be that audiences were bored of this kind of content? Overexposure killed it before it arrived? In and out of its theatrical run in Australia in 14-days and in turn losing Universal Studios $75-million.
Five seasons of BOARDWALK EMPIRE, Michael Mann's PUBLIC ENEMIES and Hillcoat's LAWLESS have a lot to answer for. It's a shame because LBN is sensual, visceral, violent, tender and romantic. It's not as instantly classic as GBG, but hands down better than the overwrought ARGO, it's a shame it flopped as badly as it did because it really deserves more of an audience.