Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Glenister, Sienna Miller, Miguel J. Pimentel, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper
Ben Affleck could be described as the personification of the American dream. He came from very little, became extremely famous, then after a few poor movies was shunned by Hollywood, only to be welcomed back with open arms when he gave us Argo, which won the Oscar for Best Film in 2013. It seems as if he’s found his feet in the director’s chair, which is why I was very excited to see his latest project, Live By Night. Alas, it wasn’t really worth the wait since ended up being an unoriginal gangster movie, the likes of which we have seen many times before. I wouldn’t say that Live By Night is a terrible film, however it’s certainly one of Affleck’s most uninspired efforts, which is a shame since as a director he boasts a very impressive back-catalogue.
Ben Affleck adapted Live By Night’s screenplay from Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, which tells the story of how a young Boston outlaw, Joe Coughlin (Affleck), managed to leave 1920s Boston, which was being torn up by an awful war between Irish and Italian gangsters, and make a name from himself managing the Italian mob boss’, Maso Pescatore, rum empire in Tampa, Florida. However, Coughlin’s struggles internally with whether he should try and be the good man he knows he is, or become the dangerous gangster he needs to be in order to succeed in this line of work.
We all find ourselves in lives we didn’t expect.
There’s a lot of good to be said about Live By Night. Firstly, the film’s cast is faultless. There’s so much talent on show in this movie, and each actor is pulling his or her weight. Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper and Miguel J. Pimentel are all worth the admission fee alone. However, the two standouts for me are Elle Fanning and Zoe Saldana. I found them to be utterly captivating, and I didn’t realise that it was Elle Fanning who was playing Chris Cooper’s Sheriff Irving Figgis’ daughter, Loretta, until the end credits told me so. Affleck himself is also very watchable onscreen, however, I did have some reservations about his leading man performance, but I’ll get into those later.
Ben Affleck’s shown us before that he has a very good eye, and he does so yet again with Live By Night. The film’s beautiful to look at and wonderfully shot. It’s also a very stylish film and perfectly represents 1920s’ fashion. There are plenty of nice Fedora hats on show. The only slight reservations I had about the film aesthetically were the deliberate scratches at the beginning and the end of the picture. I understand that they were meant to give it the same feel as the classic gangster movies we’ve all come to know and love, however, they were not necessary, and just reinforced the feeling that Affleck was trying too hard to replicate those films.
I signed up to fight in the war. I went away a soldier, I came home an outlaw.
This is probably Live By Night’s biggest problem, it all felt a little bit too forced, too staged, and I kept on thinking that I’ve seen this movie before. Scarface, The Godfather Parts 1 and 2, Goodfellas, even Casino… There are bits of every one of those movies in Live By Night, and that’s not a good thing. Affleck was obviously simply trying to bring the book to the big screen, but unfortunately he failed to do anything new with the genre and instead succeeded in doing a pretty decent imitation of past films.
Then we have Affleck’s own performance. I have to admit that I couldn’t stop thinking that his character, Joe, was a bit of an empty vessel. Firstly, Affleck is still sporting a bit of extra Batman weight and looks a bit more like a henchman than a mob boss. He actually looked quite awkward onscreen, almost as if he didn’t know what to do with his beefed-up frame. Then there’s the fact that Joe spouts a lot of cod philosophy. “We all find ourselves in lives we didn’t expect.”You realise to be free in this life, breaking the rules meant nothing. You have to be strong enough to make your own…” It does sound at times as if he’s been reading one too many self help books.
This is heaven. Right here. We’re in it now.
Then there’s the almost constant voice-over narration, which was a step too far in my mind. The film didn’t need it and it brought back memories of watching Goodfellas, but not in a good way, more in a, “I wish I was watching Goodfellas,” way.
Unfortunately, even though there were things I liked about Live By Night, and I am a fan of Ben Affleck’s work as a director, it’s a film we’ve all seen many times before, and done better. It felt too staged, even fake at times. After having delivered Argo, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Live By Night is certainly a misstep for Affleck.