Live By Night (15)
With opposition from rival gangs, the Ku Klux Klan and old friends turned enemies, Joe Coughlin is determined to see his shady business thrive in Florida. Being a gangster isn’t easy and Joe learns that crossing the wrong people doesn’t just put him at risk, but also the lives of those he loves.
Ben Affleck has proved himself as an accomplished director with films like The Town and Argo under his belt, now he has turned his hand to making a gangster movie. Live By Night is the result and it’s pretty darn good.
I myself am not someone overly familiar with the genre, I’ve only seen about two mob films ever. Goodfellas – the nearest thing to a perfect film that I’ve ever seen and Scarface – the less said about that film, the better. This lack of genre knowledge means that I wouldn’t know a mob movie cliché if it put a horse’s head in my bed. So as far as I was concerned Live By Night was a sparkling gem of originality, but die-hard fan of the genre may find it significantly less original than I did.
The performances in Live By Night are incredible, not least the performance delivered by Ben Affleck. His acting skills have consistently been good (yes, I do remember Daredevil) and his performance in Live By Night adds another well-acted role to his repertoire. He plays a reluctant gangster, very much the anti-Ray Liotta, who only becomes a gangster to visit vengeance upon the boss of the Irish Mob who ruined his life.
The other performance that really stood out for me was the one given by Elle Fanning who instantly leapt to the top of my favourite actress list after her sterling work in Nicholas Winding Refn’s glitzy masterpiece The Neon Demon. Live By Night is a film firmly rooted in the realms of reality and so there is none of the otherworldly glamour of The Neon Demon, but Elle Fanning gives a performance that is almost as haunting as her performance in The Neon Demon. Her character is the daughter of The Sheriff who assists Ben Affleck with some of his nefarious doings, her character’s presence increases later on in the film where she turns up as a terrifying preacher-like character who condemns sinful behaviour, which includes Affleck’s line of business.
Live By Night is an adaptation of a novel by Denis Lehane and for me that is either a sign of greatness or a sign of chronic tedium. Shutter Island, for example, is a towering feat of genius directed by the masterful Martin Scorcese whereas The Drop is a bland nothing of a movie held together by a few momentous performances. Live By Night is another good one, but with Affleck both directing and writing this adaptation there was no way it was going to bad, especially considering his past successes: The Town and Argo.
There is never a dull moment in Live By Night, it has a reasonably hefty running time and there was a never a moment where I found my attention wandering. The action is very well-handled and there is a pleasantly equal balance of action and talk, which was nice to see as often films lean far too heavily on one and not the other. However, for the most part Live By Night toes the line between the too, although the ending has a glorious over-the-top spectacular shootout a la Scarface that was a supreme joy to behold.
Ben Affleck ambitiously writes, directs and stars in an adaptation of a Denis Lehane novel and the result is a fantastic piece of work. It is a thrilling watch and a fine addition to the genre. It may not have the staying power of many other films of this genre, but while it’s on it’s a captivating watch.