Henry Hill once said that all he ever wanted to be was a gangster. I think he felt that way from watching all the movies about gangsters during probation, because after I watch those, I want to be one too. So often the life looks too good to be true and is romanticized. I think being a gangster during that time might have been more glamorous than being President, except for the whole good chances of being killed and stuff. I know, just say getting killed, not and stuff. It was easy to see why that life was so appealing, they had money when there wasn’t much and they had alcohol. There have been plenty of stories of figures from that time, and it seems there is always room for another.
Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is on the fictional side, but in reality he could be anyone from that time. Coughlin is a small time crook who with two of his friends hit up local card games and small-time bank jobs. While his friends are not special, Coughlin has caught the eyes of a couple of big timers. Coughlin it seems likes to play close to the edge as he is also seeing the girlfriend of one of those big timers. When they are caught, Coughlin is beat up and is saved from being killed by the policeman father. Hearing that his love interest was killed, Coughlin joins the other side to carry out his revenge. He is sent to Florida to prove his worth, where he makes a name for himself and becomes an unofficial mayor of Southern Florida. Coughlin though is only using the life, versus letting it use him, and has a plan to exit it one day. When those plans don’t go as predicted, Coughlin has to fight his way out, to get his freedom.
The film, technically is really good, and looks amazing thanks to cinematographer Robert Richardson. With a talented cast to boot, led by Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, and Chris Cooper, everything was there for a great movie. What is sorely missing is the same thing successful gangster movies have: memorable characters, stakes, plus a complex and semi-tortured lead. All the characters seem to exist for Affleck to play off of. You never get their reasons for where they are and why they do what they do. The Coughlin character has no high big-boss aspirations, and maybe that was appealing to Affleck since it’s not the two shades of Pacino, the complicated Michael Corleone, or the arrogant Tony Montana. But there needed to be more complexity to keep you interested in Coughlin’s journey. He just can’t be the gentleman gangster. There is simply nothing that makes it stand out, and will more than likely end up being one of those films that you remember seeing but can’t recall anything special about. It is not a bad movie by any stretch, but it also isn’t in league with his previous films, and somehow falls into the “yeah, it was good” category. Affleck was due a “good” movie, let’s just hope he puts it in his rear-view and is back to great again.