Ben Affleck writes, directs and stars in this week’s new release Live By Night. Set in Boston of 1926, Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston police chief who has decided to go the other way from his old man and so has become involved with the the city’s criminals. After a youth spent involved in petty local crime, Coughlin is ready to trade up and so becomes involved with the city’s Prohibition-era gangsters, addicted to the thrill that comes with their brazen activity and highly-charged lifestyle.
That lifestyle comes with risks, though, particularly those in the form of a machine gun or other weapon, whether it’s wielded by the police or a competing criminal. That kind of danger only adds to the allure for Coughlin, though. The lifestyle also brings him into contact with a variety of characters, including the tough gal Graciella Suarez (Zoe Saldana) and others who get caught in his gravitational pull, all of which may end violently as he continues tempting fate at every turn.
The first poster works hard to establish the movie’s noir credentials. “The American Dream has a price” we’re told at the top of the one-sheet, below Affleck’s name and his previous directing credits. That’s followed by the title and then we see Affleck himself standing there wearing a stylish fedora, a sunset type of sky behind him. So the audience is being sold a big-time Affleck movie, one that he not only directed but also stars in while wearing cool suits, which serves to establish the time period the story takes place in. If you’re not a fan of the actor/director, there’s nothing here for you to latch on to.
The second poster tries to keep that going, but to far less stylish results. This one features Affleck dressed to the nines in his suit and sitting in a comfortable chair, a gun pointed at someone sitting or standing across from him. “Joe was once a good man” we’re told above the title treatment, which is as close to anything about the story as we’re going to get here. The “From the director of…” credits come below the title and that’s followed by a series of small portraits of the supporting cast. It’s alright but it almost looks like it’s just awkwardly lit and comes across as kind of stilted.
We’re introduced to Coughlin and his life of crime in the first trailer as he’s working his way up the underground ladder. We hear how he went to war and came back to the life of a criminal, but that it’s not what he wants. That doesn’t matter to those around him, though, since he’s in and is going to stay that way. From there on out we’re presented with a mix of footage showing the violence the characters are capable of, the way they enjoy the perks of the profession they’ve chosen and more dialogue about the consequences of all that.
Based on this the main allure for the audience is the stylish look and feel of the movie. Affleck looks really good and the trailer takes pains to connect this to the previous movies he’s directed and which have been critical and audience favorites, but the big hook is the visual aesthetic. The story on display is a familiar one about the morally conflicted, reluctant gangster, but here’s hoping Affleck can do something interesting with it.
It’s largely more of the same in the second trailer. The shots are different and there’s some more clarity about Coughlin’s ambitions here, but otherwise this is still being sold as a noir period thriller filled with gangsters, shoot-outs and more.
One notable change in this one is that there’s far less focus on the supporting characters played by Saldana and Fanning. Instead it’s all about Affleck’s character and the deals he makes and steps he takes to solidify and build upon his power.
Online and Social
The official website loads with a quote from the movie that says “This is heaven. Right here. We’re in it now.” which presumably has some importance in the story. On the front page of the site there are prompts to either watch the trailer or get tickets and, down in the lower left corner represented by the tiniest of icons, links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest profiles. Most of those are pretty standard in terms of the content that’s shared, but the Pinterest page is unique in that it’s sharing aspirational material focused on the three female leads in the movie. It’s not as if it comes from those characters, but it’s inspired by them and is themed around their personalities.
Back to the site, the first section of content there is “Story” where you can read a pretty decent synopsis of the plot. “Videos” just has the two trailers.
There are just three stills in the “Gallery.” The “Tumblr” section (the site seems to be built on tumblr) has a number of images, GIFs and videos that can be reblogged or otherwise shared to someone’s own profile. Finally, there’s information on “Release Dates.”
“Distilling Prohibition,” the final section, is exactly the kind of thing I like to see on period movies’ websites. It goes deep into the history of the factors that lead to Prohibition being enacted, from the push for women’s suffrage to the desire to let both crack down and let loose after World War I and more. It’s not an exhaustive history but it’s a good overview for those who want to learn more quickly.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There are no domestic TV spots I could find, nor have I seen any online ads. A few social media ads have helped promote new trailer releases, but that’s all I’ve been exposed to. It would be safe to assume, though, that there’s been at least some paid push given the talent (specifically Affleck) involved. If that push hasn’t been substantial up to now, I’m sure there will be more as the movie expands from limited to wider release.
Media and Publicity
Much of the early press around the movie was based on a shifting release plan, with the movie moving here and there in relation to various other things, including Affleck’s DC Comics movies. It ultimately landed a January release, which led to plenty of speculation that an awards-qualifying run was coming before that.
In mid-November the press spotlight turned to the trades, the editors and costume designers and others, who worked to create the movie’s look and feel and capture the epic yet intimate scope of the story. Affleck also talked in this period about how he wasn’t aiming for awards, just an entertaining movie, and how he feels like despite the story’s actual time period its message is more timely than ever.
Affleck also talked about how and where this fell in his overall career, between super hero movies, as a 20+ year veteran of the industry and more, with the overall theme of the story being that not many people could get this movie made right now but Affleck has some clout. He also made a few appearances on TV and elsewhere to talk about the movie, its influences and more.
The campaign really works hard to create that sense of this being an old-school movie, the kind “they don’t make anymore.” Affleck is certainly no Bogart, but the movie is being positioned as the kind of hard-nosed gangster flick that he or Jimmy Cagney used to make, not the more modern Goodfelles-esque pictures from more recent times. There’s good to that approach in that the studio and Affleck want to give this kind of a timeless feel and while it doesn’t quite succeed on that front it comes close.
Most all of the campaign, though, seems to have happened in or before November. That’s when a lot of the press activity happened, when both of the trailers were released and more. While that’s fine, it also means the movie’s been largely out of the public eye for the better part of the month leading up to release. Maybe that’s because other, bigger movies were likely to crowd it out of the press, but it also seems like ceding ground that could have been more fully contested.