Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
The Gotham City created in “Batman” is one of the most distinctive and atmospheric places I’ve seen in the movies. It’s a shame something more memorable doesn’t happen there. “Batman” is a triumph of design over story, style over substance - a great-looking movie with a plot you can’t care much about. All of the big moments in the movie are pounded home with ear-shattering sound effects and a jackhammer cutting style, but that just serves to underline the movie’s problem, which is a curious lack of suspense and intrinsic interest.
“Batman” discards the recent cultural history of the Batman character - the camp 1960s TV series, the in-joke comic books - and returns to the mood of the 1940s, the decade of film noir and fascism.
The movie is set at the present moment, more or less, but looks as if little has happened in architecture or city planning since the classic DC comic books created that architectural style you could call Comic Book Moderne. The streets of Gotham City are lined with bizarre skyscrapers that climb cancerously toward the sky, held up (or apart) by sky bridges and stresswork that look like webs against the night sky.
At street level, gray and anonymous people scurry fearfully through the shadows, and the city cancels its 200th anniversary celebration because the streets are not safe enough to hold it. Gotham is in the midst of a wave of crime and murder orchestrated by The Joker (Jack Nicholson), and civilization is defended only by Batman (Michael Keaton). The screenplay takes a bow in the direction of the origin of the Batman story (young Bruce Wayne saw his parents murdered by a thug and vowed to use their fortune to dedicate his life to crime-fighting), and it also explains how The Joker got his fearsome grimace. Then it turns into a gloomy showdown between the two bizarre characters.