Although he is an actor that receives endless flack from masses of internet trolls, I have always been a pretty big fan of Ben Affleck’s work, both in front of the camera and behind it. Sure, he’s had his share of bad films like Reindeer Games, Gigli and Daredevil but he was arguably the best thing that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice had – a bright point in a quagmire of absolute crap. When it comes to his directorial work, Affleck has had a fantastic track record, bringing us brilliant films like Gone Baby Gone and The Town. I wasn’t a massive fan of his last film, Argo, but it did earn him a Best Picture Oscar win. His new film, Live By Night, has him reaching back to do another adaptation of a Dennis Lehane story, an author that got his filmmaker career going.
Live By Night is about Joe Coughlin, a Bostonian looking to rise to power during the prohibition era. Starting out as a bootlegger, Joe starts to make ruthless moves in the crime underworld, creating temporary alliances with kingpins, vowing to only be a businessman and not a gangster. When he moves his operation down to Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, Joe’s stature starts to grow as well as the organization he has formed around him. Inevitably, his enemies start to increase, both with the body count and the guns aiming for him. It is by all accounts a pretty classic seeming rum runner gangster flick, with tommy guns, snappy suits and snappy lines.
I was really looking forward to seeing what Affleck had next, especially after his Batman debacle. A return to form would have been great but I felt turned off by this film within the opening Massachusetts drawl of Affleck’s character who narrates the film. Transitions felt clunky and forced, the storytelling felt, at sometimes, a bit rushed and, for the most part, completely drawn out. This odd pacing made it incredibly difficult for me to get a foothold into the story at all and with all the narration interruptions, that would have been better placed as story given exposition, I found myself more and more disappointed with the whole production.
If you’re thinking, by my review, that the film is a complete bust, it’s really not. Shot by The Hateful Eight cinematographer Robert Richardson, Live By Night is a gorgeous piece of work to behold and Affleck’s on-screen performance is stellar, as is Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning, who is quickly showing herself to be one of the best young actresses currently working today. I feel this film falls short with its direction, almost like Ben was a bit distracted with everything that Warner Bros is piling on his plate with this Justice League franchise. Lehane’s stories have usually proved to be very interesting and good fodder for film, but the execution on Live By Night makes this crime novel feel pretty lackluster and formulaic. Don’t worry though, Ben, I still have the utmost faith in you, Hell, didn’t I just praise Batman a little bit? I feel dirty. 2.5/5