Film Review – Live by Night (2016)

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Title – Live by Night (2016)

Director – Ben Affleck (The Town)

Cast – Ben Affleck, Chris Messina, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Miguel, Chris Cooper, Matthew Maher, Robert Glenister

Plot – Solider turned gangster Joe Coughlin (Affleck) moves to the everglades of Florida in Prohibition era America to set up a variety of illegal activities, all in the name of getting a chance at revenge against Irish crime boss Albert White (Glenister) who wronged Joe when the two lived in Boston.  

“You realize to be free in this life, breaking the rules meant nothing. You have to be strong enough to make your own”

Review by Eddie on 31/01/2017

At the time of writing it’s been reported that Ben Affleck’s gangster passion project Live by Night will lose its studio Warner Brothers an estimated $75 million dollars upon initial release, with the films only hopes of delivering on its hyped potential the chance it finds an audience once it enters the home video market.

2016 surely will be a year Ben Affleck would rather forget.

After personnel issues played out in the public spotlight, the increasingly mocked release of Batman V Superman, the good not outstanding The Accountant (which at least performed quite well on a limited budget) and sad Affleck memes, Live by Night felt like a chance for Affleck to end his forgettable year on a high but this visually impressive yet emotionally lacking adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name just never does enough to become the film Affleck so clearly wanted it to be, even if the final product is far from the out and out failure many critics have unfairly labelled it to be.

The weakest directional outing yet for Affleck, on the back of 3 previous impressive films, Live by Night sees the filmmaker, screenwriter and actor try so very hard to make the “big” crime epic that lay within his grasp but Affleck seems unable to find the foundation of what was needed to do so stemming from tonal issues, undeveloped side characters and plotlines and the feeling that Affleck miscast himself in a lead role he feels out of place playing.

Playing solider turned outlaw Joe Coughlin in the prohibition era of America, Joe is a rather cold central figure in proceedings and while the film try’s to find reasons for us to like Joe, whether it’s his relationship with fellow Irish girl Emma Gould (played by the underused Sienna Miller) or the films underplayed romance with Zoe Saldana’s Cuban Graciela, it’s hard to get to invested in Joe’s rather slow way of enacting out revenge on those that have wronged him, even if many of the films various components and sideplot’s provide evidence of the film Live by Night could’ve been.

From the meddling Ku Klux Klan (scenes involving Matthew Maher’s redneck Klan’s member RD Pruitt are a highlight), Chris Cooper’s brilliant turn as kind hearted local police Chief Figgis or Elle Fanning’s scene stealing appearance’s as drug addled wannabe actress turned local town religious preacher Loretta Figgis, a turn that makes a great double bill for the young actress when you count her impressive work in the future cult classic The Neon Demon, Live by Night certainly covers a lot of ground (perhaps too much for a mere feature film) and while there’s little fault to be found in the films set design and production, without that emotional investment, Live by Night was only ever going to achieve a certain level of mid-tier success.

A disappointing experience when all at hand is given due consideration, Live by Night still showcases glimpses of Affleck’s talents as a director (again he shows the ability to draw out terrific acting turns) that make Live by Night a polished feature but a cold experience made worse by the films failure to ever really get the blood pumping (gangster film fans should lower their expectations when it comes to the thrills and spills stakes).

Not a bad film but a film that time will likely forget, Live by Night is the work of a filmmaker whose previous works have so far been anything but and therefore a rather unfortunate product of bad timing and an appearance in a public’s frame of mind where it has once again become the “it” thing to kick Ben Affleck while he is down but if history has shown us anything, we can expect a turnaround from Mr. Affleck in the not too distant future.

3 ½ convenient tunnels out of 5

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10 responses to “Film Review – Live by Night (2016)

  1. I agree – not bad, but definitely forgettable, which is disappointing considering Affleck’s previous three directorial efforts. Let’s hope 2017, and any following year, treats him better than 2016 did!

  2. I gave it 2.5/5. the script was a mess but the acting was decent (though i agree Elle was stellar, had some good action moments, and was well-filmed. I think Affleck just tried to add way too much to the script.

    • Yeh it felt like the whole script didn’t know what it wanted to be, I found like it was almost like 2 or 3 films in one and it didn’t master any of them. I get the feeling Affleck shouldn’t have cast himself either.
      E

    • Yeh its certainly not as bad as some people have made it out to be that is for sure but I think it’s a film that really didn’t end up being what everyone was expecting and it suffered for it.
      E

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