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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Live By Night tells the story of gangster Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) as
he rises, falls then rises again through the criminal underworlds of
Boston and Miami. Chronicling his life throughout the prohibition era
in America, Joe becomes involved in the most nefarious of situations.
He survives a bank heist gone wrong in which a police officers winds up
dead, he survives a long stint in prison caused by the betrayal of his
femme fatale Emma (Sienne Miller), he goes through so much in the film
that you start to wonder less about what is going to happen than as to
why it is happening. This is a film that feels incomplete, rushed and
all together shallow. Ben Affleck, who has given us some pretty
incredible films up until now, shows his weaknesses as a screenwriter
but continues to give us more than enough to chew when it comes to his
While I did want more out of this film, there is no denying that Affleck can most certainly stage some breathtaking action sequences. He knows when to get close, he knows what to show and when to show it. Live By Night is no exception to that standard in regards to how everything is shown. Some major highlights of the film include a vicious car chase through a country back road, copious amounts of bloody shootouts and brutal fights throughout yet we feel disengaged by what is going on. We don't know enough about anyone in the film outside of Joe to be connected to them, let alone feel bad when someone dies. To be quite honest, the film is 128 minutes and has about 100 characters in it...none of which you end up caring about. This comes down on the shoulders of Affleck as a screenwriter. In many ways, the film plays out like a highlight reel to a HBO mini-series such as Boardwalk Empire. It never really lets us simmer in slow burn human drama and instead gives us an action packed gangster film that is more on the level of Gangster Squad than White Heat.
If there is one thing that I've grown to expect going into a Ben Affleck film, it is that I'm bound to be blown away by the cast if all else fails. While the performances in this film are good, some of them even excellent, it really doesn't translate well when you just don't care about them. Ironically, in a film that is geared towards male characters and dominated by such, the women in this film give tremendous performances. Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana stand out as two performances that were truly powerhouse even if their screen time collectively added up to maybe twenty minutes all together.
Then there is Chris Messina, who was a bit hard to judge here, considering he is playing a character from the 1930s underworld, but it was extremely hard to take him seriously during times when you wanted nothing more than to be able to take him seriously. At first, I figured he was the comic relief but then I was left waiting for him to drop the act and be serious for a moment. While I know Messina is a phenomenal actor, I just could not take him seriously in this role. Unfortunately, I thought he was too over the top. No matter what my thoughts on Messina were, he still did not compare to how I felt about Ben Affleck's performance as Joe.
While I am a big fan of Ben Affleck, I was severely let down by his performance in this film. I've read about the differences between the film and the novel regarding the age and honestly, I don't really care about that. The film is the film and the book is the book. That isn't my issue here. My issue is how wooden Affleck went to portray Joe. There was nothing new, nothing deep about this character which is pretty disappointing considering both The Town and Gone Baby Gone had tremendous lead characters that made us care about what happens to them. Unfortunately, this isn't the case here. This film does very little to make us care about any character, let alone our lead. Many will argue that watching a criminal empire get built is fascinating no matter how many times we see it, and I agree with that. But when you have someone as uninteresting as Joe Coughlin, something that is supposed to be fun to watch turns into a chore. That is probably the most frustrating thing about this film.
Overall, Live by Night is a throwback to classical gangster films that serves as Ben Affleck's worst directorial effort. With that being said, the film still features some truly thrilling action sequences that are bound to satisfy many even if the film is a bloated mess that should have been larger than what is or nothing at all.
I've been a fan of Ben Affleck's directional efforts ever since I saw
Gone Baby Gone way back in 2007 in theaters. I also loved The Town and
think its his best film to date. Live by Night sort of came out of
nowhere but I'm always down for Prohibition era crime films. The film
seemed to get lukewarm reviews but there was no way I wasn't going to
see this for myself. Overall, I'd say I enjoyed it and its better than
what other critics are saying.
The film is set in Boston (and then Tampa) and is the story of the son of a police captain, who becomes a bootlegger and gangster. Be forewarned that there isn't much that separates this from gangster films we've seen before, however Affleck knows what he's doing and I think he does it well. The thing that pops out to me is the dialogue. Its quite clever and witty. There's funny moments and the film isn't always super serious, which is refreshing. Not everything in the script has to be explained as the viewers are expected to follow the message. The suits, cars, glamour, of the 20s and 30s is captured quite well (not that I lived in that era to really know if it was accurate). Some of the dialogue was hard to hear in theaters (the accents probably contributed to this). I think this film will one day warrant a second view anyways.
While I really enjoyed the film, it isn't without faults. It really depends on whether you can forgive the film for that or really see it as a detriment. Some of the characters felt loose and suddenly disappear. This includes Siena Miller, Elle Fanning and Brendan Gleeson. Fates of characters are explained and such but they feel unfulfilled. I thought Fanning's character was just becoming great, but as I said unfulfilled. Miller's character arc was just so odd as well (maybe rushed to fit the story). Well, at least my boy Miguel was in this. The film seems to want to tackle a few foes/events in different parts of the film and doesn't always do it seamlessly, which makes the film seem unfocused. The events of the third act felt rushed together just to come to a resolution. Without going into spoiling there's a head scratching moment near the end that seemed out of left field. I didn't have too many problems with all this and maybe its because I'm partial to Affleck and gangster films.
I enjoyed the car chase and gun battles. I think the comic element of the film kind of swept into the action scenes which made it enjoyable. I liked that the film takes place in Tampa and mixes with the Black and Cuban community as well. Its nice to see a sort of different locality in a gangster film. I'm sure there's much more I want to ramble about but nothings coming to me. Overall, this probably won't be something that'll be a the top of year end lists but its thoroughly enjoyable even through its flaws. Its not Affleck's best but I applaud him for directing and writing films in a time where he's busy being in blockbusters.
Producer, director, writer and lead actor: Ben Affleck.
Let's look at those contributions one by one.
Producer. The film looks good. There's an expert team on both sides of the camera. But there's a problem with length. Also, it feels as though the adaptation from Dennis Lehane's novel has not sufficiently transformed what was on the page into cinematic story-telling.
Director. There are excellent action sequences, such as an exciting car-chase and a final shoot-out. As a director of actors Mr Affleck is strong: he elicits particularly striking work from Chris Messina, Elle Fanning, Remo Girone and Sienna Miller. Within scenes there's a reassuring sense of control of pace. But overall, there is a sense of the director being in thrall to the screenplay.
Writer. This is the weakest link. It feels in awe of its source material. I read that an entire strand of the book was removed for the purposes of the film, but this was not enough. The producer and/or the director needed to tell the writer to put it through another draft. Or put it in its current form on Netflix as a two-part drama.
Lead actor. A matter of taste, I guess. Mr Affleck's persona is always of a handsome man who knows he's handsome, and who is very pleased with himself about it. I find this insufferable in large doses. And there is a very large dose of it here. Mr Affleck's performances lack depth -- compare and contrast those of this amazing brother Casey. As far as I'm concerned, Mr B. Affleck is more a male model than an actor: in James Bond terms, he's a George Lazenby rather than a Daniel Craig. His best film performance is his self-parodying turn in 'SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE'. In LIVE BY NIGHT he is serviceable, nothing more. His director clearly couldn't get anything else out of him.
It's instructive to compare Ben Affleck to Clint Eastwood, who also has a limited -- maybe even more limited -- range as an actor. But Eastwood the director usually casts Eastwood the actor brilliantly. DIRTY HARRY, UNFORGIVEN,GRAN TORINO etc: who could be better? By contrast, there are many young actors who could have played the lead in LIVE BY NIGHT, and many writers who could have delivered a better screenplay, especially when guided by a strong producer and director. Time will tell whether Ben Affleck is as good in those last two departments as ARGO suggested he might be. The promise he showed in those areas in that film is not in evidence here.
Actor/writer/director Ben Affleck tries his hand at a period piece in this ambitious crime saga beginning in the 1920s Prohibition Era. Joe Coughlinthe son of a renowned Boston police officeris a small-time crook looking to make a name for himself in the ruthless underworld of organized crime. After a series of tragic circumstances, he relocates to the South to become the frontman/muscle for an Italian mafia bootlegging operation, but quickly gets plunged into the seedy, seductive world of money, power, greed, and corruption. Intriguing at first, with tense moments of action and character interactions, but goes on too long by following too many unrelated story threads, features ineffective casting in key roles, has too many familiar elements, and concludes in pat, sanctimonious fashion. Despite some flavorful ingredients, Affleck's attempt to create a potent, moralizing amalgam of The Town and The Godfather doesn't quite succeed. **½
Gangster movies have been a major component to American cinema for
quite some time. With established films like The Godfather series,
Scarface, among other films, sometimes it can be hard to produce a
quality modern day crime film. But Ben Affleck has made an attempt this
weekend with the movie Live by Night. Can Affleck's recent resurgence
revitalize the gang movie, or does his operation go belly up before it
gets started? Robbie K here with another review and as always
appreciate the read.
LIKES: Solid acting Incredible Setting and Costumes Very Detailed Description of a mob rising
Summary: Affleck's stoic, monotone, performances continue to find footholds in a variety of parts, and his portrayal of a gangster with a conscience is spot on. Although not the most emotionally dynamic character, Affleck's tactics work in portraying a man struggling with the trials at hand. Chris Messina as his sidekick has more of an edge that helps offset the monotone delivery of the lead role. Other actors do their job of crafting the seedy mob family, being cunning, ruthless, or strong to accomplish their goals. If the acting doesn't sell the gangster setting than the costumes and scenery will do the trick. Live by Night uses the big budget of the film industry to recreate the roaring 20s, complete with old fashioned zoot suits, classic car models, and the nostalgic traditional models of high-end restaurants. I felt I had traveled back in time in this flick, with only the high definition cameras and a recognition of modern day fabric to shatter the illusion. Finally, the other component that sells the crime theme is the attention to detail of starting a crime syndicate. Most other crime movies often have our character in an established family, but Live By Night twists this concept and casts Affleck into raising a satellite family in Florida. Much of the film is focuses on how he establishes business contracts, allies, love, occasionally throwing in some conflict resolution that brings a little excitement to the film.
DISLIKES: Slow pace Awkward Summaries Boring At times Rushed over ending
Summary: Although some of my favorite mafia movies don't have action, they at least have an engaging plot that is suspenseful. Not the case for this movie. Live by Night is slow, often paying a little too much attention to monotonous details for building the empire. The film tried to build the suspense with their overdone explanations that promised some heart crushing moments... only to wrap things up with a monologue from Affleck describing what happened. These mundane, overlapping comments did little for me other than decrease the run time of the movie and I was disappointed at the lack of effort for drama. The result for me was a very boring film not only in terms of action, but in emotional suspense as well. If you look at the classics, the storytellers built up tension that climaxed at those gut-wrenching moments as a character was killed. However in this film, they seldom came close to matching that suspense, the only exception being two moments near the end of the film. And speaking of the ending it felt out of place for me. Live By nights "exciting" climax has a heated battle that fits well into the theme of the movie, but finally relieves the boring moments. Had they ended with the monologue after that it would have been perfect. Yet, the movie didn't stop and added an extra twenty minutes that summed things up, but in a manner that to me was very simplistic, rushed, and lackluster.
Live by Night is a gangster movie that felt more like a video guide to starting a bootlegging operation. It certainly has the look and feel of a gangster movie, complete with family drama, but it lacks that edge the mobster classics had. Outside of a few moments, this movie was a little toned down for my tastes, and I didn't like the monologue summaries as they robbed us of some exciting conclusions. Therefore, this reviewer can't recommend this movie for the theater outside of the look of the movie.
My scores are:
Crime Drama: 6.5 Movie Overall: 5.0
"Maybe it's true. We all find ourselves in lives we didn't expect. But
what I learned was powerful men don't have to be cruel."Joe Coughlin
Yet in the best of gangster, powerful men like Michael Corleone and Henry Hill are cruel, no matter how gentle their exteriors. So it seems with Joe Coughlin, a prohibition "bandit," as he calls himself, who doesn't think of himself as a gangster ("I don't wanna be a gangster. Stopped kissing rings a long time ago."). Yet he kills or has others killed in the name of moving toward heaven.
Although beautifully appointed and set in Florida and Cuba, writer/director Affleck's crime story misses the weight of crime films, which casually juxtapose the serious with the not so. It lacks the sass of Pulp Fiction and the gravitas of The Godfather with not much of their verbal gymnastics or irony.
Joe wanting to be a saint while being a sinner requires an actor of considerable resources, which Affleck showed a modicum of recently in the Accountant because it required him to be affectless. He brings that same stolid mien to this film and endangers the edge necessary for the success of actors like Al Pacino. Like Affleck, the film is listless except when Tommy Guns take charge.
As Joe navigates from a low-rent lover, Emma (Sienna Miller), to a classy love, Graciella (Zoe Saldana), director Affleck spends too much time on their embraces and too little on what makes him love them so passionately. He does love his own image as his abundance of self close-ups testifies. Maybe there is no passion, just old affectless Affleck.
It's dumping time in Hollywood, and Live by the Night is a classic example of why smart studios dump dull movies in January. It's not all that bad the way Joe is not all that bad. However, it just doesn't have the firepower to go against the big guns in the Oscar race. Remember the wild surprises and rich characters of the long-form Sopranos?
Maybe that's why the film gangster genre feels troubled here: The arch enemy, TV!
After World War I, Joe Coughlin doesn't know what to believe in having
witnessed so much death and destruction. He returns to America as an
outlaw and begins working for the mob and mafia, burgling, and getting
a little too intimate with the boss's wife.
Ben Affleck really wanted this to be the Godfather, and be both Coppola and Pacino. It's way off the mark. Firstly, Joe is a bad guy with very little decency, so there's absolutely no reason to root for him. Secondly, Affleck's acting is all over the place in tone - is he badass, caught in the storm, or a nice guy at heart? Apparently all three at various points. Yet his performance is still much better than the supporting cast who never really have any conviction.
The art department did a good job though - the costumes, scenery, backdrops and cars all looked fairly authentic. Shame the actors just felt like they were playing fancy dress and not actually from the time period. The main problem is the story though; it seems to go on forever with various twists and turns, but never did it engage my interest. It didn't annoy me, but it certainly didn't entertain me either.
A modern gangster thriller, but without the thrills. Solid mis-en-scene, but lacks depth and quality acting and writing.
I went to the theater to watch a Gangster/Mafia movie, and I got one. Mafia movies are by far my favorite type of movie. Live by Night delivered that 1920's gangster look. Ben Affleck does an amazing Irish Mafia member persona. The story was very moving and the characters were likable. There was just enough action in the movie. The tommy gun fight scenes felt like a real 1920's gang shoot out. Live by Night shows a true gangster movie look. Most Mafia movies rely on the story to make their movie good. Live by Night uses action and an amazing story. I had a little trouble with keeping up with the names of the characters but later on I started memorizing their names. Defiantly go see this movie if your a gangster/mafia movie fan. Live by Night will not disappoint you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw "Live By Night", starring Ben Affleck-The Accountant, Dazed and
Confused; Zoe Saldana-Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar; Elle Fanning-
Maleficent, Super 8 and Chris Cooper-The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The
This is a gangster movie set in the 1920's. It's directed by Ben Affleck. Ben plays a disillusioned soldier from WW1 that has come home to Boston to become an outlaw-he doesn't use a gun because he doesn't want to kill anybody after what he saw in the war. He doesn't want to join the Irish or the Italian mobs so he ends up in Florida during prohibition and becomes involved in the alcohol business-selling to people in need. He meets Zoe, a Cuban involved in importing rum, and they fall in love. Moving to Florida still had it's share of problems though; Both groups of Irish and Italian mobsters end up in Florida, too. Plus he has to fight religious zealots wanting to put him out of business and even the KKK gets into his affairs, wanting their cut of things. Chris plays a local policeman and Elle is his daughter, the leader of the religious zealots. There are a couple of cameos; I remember seeing Anthony Michael Hall and Clark Gregg. It's an all-right gangster movie-good action and nice sets-except it does get a little slow in a few parts. It's rated "R" for violence, language and sexual content-including partial nudity-and has a running time of 2 hours & 8 minutes. I don't think I would buy it on DVD-Did I mention it was a little slow?- but it would be alright as a rental.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoilers aplenty below.
Live By Night is a gangster film set in early 20th century Boston and Florida. Ben Affleck, who also directs and wrote the screenplay by adapting a Dennis Lehane novel, stars as Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston-based Police Chief of Irish descent.
Coughlin returns from the Great War in Europe in 1918 disillusioned by the killing of so many of his compatriots, while the people higher up in society remained largely unscathed or even profited from the war. He vows never to let anyone tell him what to do again and becomes a small-time 'outlaw' in Boston. He and two accomplices commit bank robberies and other crimes. They do this outside of the major Irish and Italian crime organisations operating in Boston who are fighting each other for control. Inevitably he gets caught up in the Boston gangster scene. In no small part due to the fact he is having a relationship with Emma Gould, the Moll of the head of the Irish faction Albert White. After a bank raid goes wrong, Coughlin and Gould plan to go to California, but White and his accomplices capture him with the help of Emma who betrays him to save herself. Coughlin seems doomed, but the police arrive to arrest him for the bank job, and therefore stop his murder. He only gets three years in prison largely due to the influence of his father who has damaging information about the prosecutor of the case.
Coughlin's father tells him that Emma was killed by White, and when he gets out of prison he goes to the head of the Italian faction, Maso Pescatore, so he can get a chance to kill Albert White for killing Emma. Pescatore tells him that in the three years he's been in prison White and his gang have been driven out of Boston. He gives Coughlin the job of running the Italian prohibition busting rum smuggling operation from Florida to Boston.
Coughlin takes over and runs the rum smuggling operation very successfully for years in combination with the Cuban's and other immigrants. He falls for and marries Graciela, the sister of the head of the Cuban smuggling business. Everything is operating fine until prohibition repeal starts to be discussed. Coughlin attempts to build a large casino to switch the business from smuggling to gambling, but his plans are derailed by a young girl preacher who turns the town against the idea. At the same time, the local KKK faction is trying to muscle in on the speakeasy and future casino businesses. They also don't like the fact that Coughlin and others are living with Cuban's and other non-white people. Coughlin sorts out the KKK, but he later gets double-crossed by Pescatore. Fortunately, he see's this coming and has a plan in place
The acting in Live By Night is great. Sienna Miller as fantastic as the Moll Emma Gould. Her Cork accent is fantastic. Elle Fanning isn't in the film much, but her portrayal of the young preacher Loretta Figgis is fantastic. Fanning was in my favourite film from 2016 (The Neon Demon). She is turning into an excellent actor. The rest of the cast are good, but Miller and Fanning stand out. The script is good, and the cinematography is first class, and the film looks gorgeous. The sets and costumes all fit into the 1920's to 1940's vibe. Perhaps a bit to clean and sharp for depression period America, but I wasn't there so can't say. It didn't detract from the feel.
I liked Live By Night. It had all the tropes you would expect in a north-east American based gangster film. And you need those tropes in a film of this type or you might feel short-changed. It is done well and has a few twists you might not expect. I rated it 8/10. Close to a 9, but not quite. I would recommend seeing it.
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