Ben Affleck trades in his batsuit, to write, direct and star in his love letter to the American gangster film genre.
Live By Night is the fourth directorial movie of Affleck’s career and it sees him playing the main lead once again as a gangster set during the prohibition era. It tells the story of Joe Coughlin (Affleck) as we see him climbing the ranks in the Boston mob, deciding whether or not he’s fit to be a gangster. Ultimately it tells a tale like many others before it, the trials and tribulations of any man who decides to choose a life of crime. Or as the movie puts it, “whatever you put into this world, always comes back to you, but it never comes back to you as you predict.” I was really excited when I first heard that Ben was directing another movie, because he is three for three in doing so. “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town,” & “Argo” are all incredible movies that I hold in pretty high regard. He’s one of the best directors working in Hollywood today, and that was not the problem with this movie.
Overall I did not like Live By Night, and it has nothing to do with the technical aspects of this film. Affleck does an incredible job with the costume design, the set pieces, and gets everything he could have out of his pretty diverse cast. Being at the bottom of the totem pole for the movies he has directed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Compare it to being one of the four big Chris’s in Hollywood right now (Pratt, Pine, Evans and Hemsworth) someone has to be last and in this race and I’m pretty sure they all are doing okay. Affleck is one of the few people in Hollywood who is writing, directing and starring in their own movies, and I can’t even imagine the amount of time, energy and work that must go into that. So in that regard he deserves a lot of credit. He’s a goddman Trifleckta! (Yah I just made that up)
Lets start with the good. The first 30 minutes of this movie, which are set in Boston, were great! I was invested and I wanted to see more. There is a great bank robbery/car chase scene that was really well shot, because Affleck has no problem shooting action sequences. At the beginning of the movie they touch on his relationship with his father played by Brendon Gleeson and I really wanted to see more of that. Gleeson plays a police captain, so the dynamic between the two is really fantastic. Sienna Miller plays his first love interest in the film, who is the daughter of a mob boss. Cliché concept but it worked at the beginning of the movie because it was one of the few driving points of the plot. About 40 minutes into this movie I thought to myself, “why is this movie getting such bad reviews”? Then I understood why, because after the 40-minute mark this movie literally falls flat on its face. Again I don’t mean this movie failed in a technical sense or production design, or anything like that. Simply put the story just didn’t go ANYWHERE! I felt bored at times during the second act of this movie, something I cannot say about past Affleck movies. I had a hard time even remembering what Affleck’s characters name was and that’s never a good sign for the movie. It’s hard to root for someone in a movie when you can’t even remember his or her name.
The second act of this movie takes us from Boston to Florida, and it just never clicked from there. We get introduced to the second love interest in the movie played by the wonderful Zoe Saldana who was just okay in this. I felt she was a little underused for my liking and since she’s such a great actress I felt that they could have used her a little bit more. In Florida it was overall just dull and the movie had no substance. I was never emotionally invested into any of the characters and being a gangster film you know people are deposable and I just didn’t care if something happened to them. The movie just never gripped me the way I wanted it too. Certainly not in the way his past films have. In The Town I cared so much about the characters that I was invested into all of them from the opening scene and I just never quite got on that level for Live By Night. By far the best part of the second act of this movie was Cris Cooper, who works well with Affleck. If it wasn’t for his performance in this, this could have been a train wreck. He has an excellent relationship with his daughter played by Ella Fanning, who to be honest didn’t do it for me in this. I will say that what happens to her in this movie and how it affects the characters and drives the plot; it leads to some scenes of serious tension and drama. Affleck and Cooper have the most powerful scene in the movie together and Cooper is just lights out in it. Same as his performance in The Town, he needs very little screen time to leave his mark.
So by the time the third act rolled around I was hoping this movie would kind of redeem itself. The last shoot out is great, the set pieces are fantastic and again I will reiterate that Affleck knows how to shoot action scenes, so I was happy with that. But when he comes face to face with the main bad guy in the movie I wanted more of an emotional confrontation from the two and we never got that. When it’s all said and done, we are just left wondering if it was even all worth it for his character simply because I don’t feel like many people are emotionally invested into what was going on. It just takes a long time after the first act of this movie for something to happen, the movie just doesn’t do anything.
This isn’t a bad movie, but its biggest problem is the story and its characters, which are the two main ingredients in any great film. All the technical stuff is top-notch, this is an Oscar made movie, I just don’t think it was able to hit on any of those notes. The best part of this movie is all its technical qualities, you could tell Ben really put a lot into this movie and it shows, but the story just wasn’t that interesting. Even as Ben is climbing the ranks and taking on other gangs, mobs and even the KKK, I just never found it to be fully intriguing.
He’s a great filmmaker and I don’t see this as a step back for him in that regard. I’m still super pumped for The Batman because he’s going to direct the shit out of it, you just can’t hit a home run every time you step up to the plate.
Check ya later,
Nate’s Movie Tour Reviews – Live By Night = 65/100