Live by Night Movie Review

live by night movie review
Affleck's paying his respects to this film's Oscar chances

"We all find ourselves in lives we didn't expect."

I believe that it's worse to see a film get close to its potential and fail, than to see something that never had a chance at all. Everyone has seen that type of movie. The ones where the elements were there for it to be a modern day classic, but that final ingredient just somehow eluded it. I've seen plenty of those kinds in my time. Even recently has had its share of disappointments. The Revenant is a perfect example. So many things went right for that film, but the most important thing was missing; The film's ability to make us care for its protagonist. Without that, all of the other beauties didn't matter. I also have a feeling that most of those unsatisfying films were probably book-to-screen adaptations, that were failures in their attempts to capture the essences of their inspirations.

Live by Night

I could tell about a part of the way into Live by Night, that it was based on a novel. Aside from my ability to notice such things from nearly four decades of movie watching, it was just obvious in that it felt like many things were being cut out and/or flashed through. As the film's writer, producer, director, and star, I can honestly say that Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, The Town) has an eye for film making. But just maybe, he should have handed one or more of those duties over to somebody else so that this picture didn't suffer? With how chopped up this film appears at times, I bet they could've gotten at another film or two out of this. However there is plenty of attention to detail in the overall ambiance.

The bootlegging era is captured in a beautiful detail that never once made me think it was fake, or that someone in the background would be caught holding a cellphone. The combination of Affleck's eye and the veteran skills of award-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (JFK, The Hateful Eight), makes Live by Night a rich visual experience. Now if only the story had been told right. The story has Affleck's character jumping around from scene to scene, in a way that rarely makes him feel grounded. At times it's almost like a stretched out montage that covers less important things than the meat of the tale.

The use of characters in Live by Night are also a bit of a toss up. Some important roles are held back to only a couple of scenes, while others get way more importance than they deserve. Affleck is always good at delivering his lines, but in the three or four moments when a dose of humor is introduced to a scene, it's hard to tell if he's taking the role seriously enough, or if he wanted the film to be lighter in tone.

The acting has three stand outs that makes you sad at how much better this could have been. Chris Messina (Argo) as Affleck's right hand man Dion, is that sidekick that you'd love to see more of because he's so different from everybody else. Sienna Miller (American Sniper) plays an opportunistic love interest of Affleck's, that takes over the screen with every moment she speaks. The best and most underused actor of the entire film, has to be with Elle Fanning (Super 8).

Her portrayal of a Sheriff's abused daughter, is both sad and powerful. She barely has more than a couple of scenes to establish herself, but each time she shows, the film is elevated. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) is also underused for the most part as the Sheriff. There's something compelling about his character that we only get to see snippets of. But at least he gets better than Zoe Saldana (The Losers). She is totally wasted as Affleck's woman after he's with Miller. There are some brief but nice appearances from multiple actors as well.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, of Live by Night

The Good- Runnin from the coppers, Fanning's tragic tale, Miller's defiant goodbye, and taking out the trash.

The Bad- Forget The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Live by Night doesn't know when to end either. Also, a tragedy near the film's end is so predictable, that it has no impact for the poorly written character it happens to. And when did mob bosses become so two-faced, especially when you're making a ton of money for them?

The Ugly- Affleck's speech about racial revolution, seemed more self-serving as in he doesn't want to be called a racist himself.

Final Thoughts

Live by Night is nowhere near a bad movie, yet its fatal flaw cannot be ignored. There's no heart in this film at all. Just some good to great performances in a pretty looking film. Those performances are worth a viewing. Just don't expect to be awed by much else. "This coulda been a contender" (On the Waterfront).
Rating- 5.5 out of 10

Live by Night (2016)

R | 2h 9min | Crime, Drama | 13 January 2017 (USA)

A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.

Director: Ben Affleck
Writers: Ben Affleck (screenplay), Dennis Lehane (based on the novel by)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson