By: Samar Khan
I have made a new promise to myself: do not buy into the hype that accompanies a director’s perfect track record.
Ben Affleck is the latest in a string of visionary auteurs that fails to match the expectations set by his previously acclaimed films (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo), with his latest venture being far too large for its own britches. This is the review of Live By Night.
BRIEF PLOT SYNOPSIS
The story concerns Joe Coughlin (played by Affleck), a small-time mobster in 1920’s Boston. His father (played by the ever fantastic Brendan Gleeson) being a police captain and the younger Coughlin being a vet of the First World War means that the latter goes hunting for danger whenever he can, such as when he takes up with the mistress (Sienna Miller) of a notorious mob kingpin, Albert White (Robert Glenister). Things get messy, Coughlin bails on Boston and heads to Ybor City, Florida where he proceeds to get entangled with a new lady and new enemies all while plotting how to defeat the aforementioned White. Suffice it to say, there are a LOT of ideas crammed into what is a two-hour film and not all of them work out well in such a concise timeframe.
The Ideas. Affleck’s film has grand concepts it touches on and justttt glosses over that are tantalizing to think about. For one, the idea of being a Prohibition-era gangster in Florida interacting with a diverse range of enemies such as the Klu Klux Klan is fascinating and something I would love to see as the primary subject of a film.
Elle Fanning. The younger sibling of Dakota, Elle hasn’t quite garnered the fame of her sister but puts forth a very good performance as Loretta Figgis. One scene in particular opposite Affleck that was particularly emotionally poignant really highlighted the growth of the young star.
Costume Design/Visuals. Hoo, boy. The visuals were gorgeous. Gorgeous. Every single suit on each mobster to the police uniforms to the period-authentic women dresses was on point. Affleck is a master of capturing the beauty in every scene and complements the fantastic costume design with sets that just pop and are easily the most memorable from a film directed by Affleck.
Action. The action scenes are what you’d expect from a film centered on gangsters and this delivers in spades, with each action scene being framed so as to allow the audience to enjoy all the components comprising said scene.Without delving into spoiler territory, a climactic shoot-out in a hotel in the final act is one of the better action scenes of the year, which should say just enough about the film’s action quality.
Too many ideas, too little time. Remember my PRO point up above about how the ideas themselves were worthy of praise? The reason I praised the ideas and not the execution is because the film just shoehorned in everything it could into a two-hour time limit. From what I have been informed by many readers of the film’s source material, the book had enough material to fill at least two feature-length films. Affleck and co. tried to stuff it into one and it was noticeable with the rushed nature and glossed over aspect of many scenes and characters.
Ben Affleck. Don’t get me wrong, Ben was not bad bad. For this film, though, he did not have the requisite charisma and gravitas to carry the character that a prime DeNiro or Pacino would have had. Affleck has always thrived playing characters that are a mixture of sad and sort of tough but playing a full on mobster was a little out of his league and it showed when compared to the scenes that Chris Cooper absolutely shined in (all of them!).
The story. This ties into the “too many ideas” concept a tad but it bears special mention because of the fact that it was riddled with cliches. You name me a mobster movie cliche and I will point you to a scene in Live By Night that encompassed it. If the film had been longer and been able to flesh out its ideas, the cliches would have been less noticeable surrounded by fresh and innovative thoughts. Alas, we may just have to wait for a Director’s Cut to truly appreciate this film.
After careful deliberation, we here at The Film Lawyers have decided to grace Live By Night with a grade of C+ (6.5/10).