Ben Affleck writes, directs, produces and stars in this adaptation of the novel by Denis Lehane. The film centres on the criminal son of a prominent police chief and his descent into the criminal underworld.
Ben Affleck's career saw somewhat of a resurgence when he took his talents behind the camera with films such as Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo which won Best Picture back in 2013. His latest film however is easily his first real failure as a director. Live by Night is a convoluted and misguided gangster film that never finds it's footing.
Joe Coughlin was a soldier who returned back home to Boston and was immediately thrust into the world of guns and gangsters. Affleck is great as Coughlin, but we never get to empathise with the character due to not really knowing all that much about him. Affleck assembled a terrific supporting cast including Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson and an unrecognisable Chris Messina, but the characters are forgettable and uninteresting. We're never given a chance to invest in any of these characters because there's so many plots and characters thrown around the film and none of them ever coherently piece together. Live by Night would have worked so much better as a TV show, giving these stories the right amount of time to breathe instead of being crammed into a two hour film.
There are a few interesting ideas thrown around Live by Night, the most of which is the relationship between Coughlin and his father. Joe's father is a police chief who is fully aware that his son is a crook, but he'll only ever take action if he catches him at a crime scene. Their relationship could have been the main focus and this would have been a much more interesting film. There's so much crammed into this film that nothing is ever fleshed out enough, whether that be plot or character. The film is also painfully slow and a real slog to sit through with a run time of just over two hours that honestly felt closer to three.
Over an hour into the film, I wasn't quite sure what story the film was trying to tell. There's so many characters and plots thrown around that the main story gets bogged down, whether that be by a subplot featuring a Casino or one featuring the KKK. Nothing ever picks up and it's all just left without any real resolution.
What Live by Night does have going for it is some solid performances and some excellently directed action scenes. Affleck puts together some exciting and tense chase scenes and shootouts that would have made such a bigger impact had the stakes or characters ever been fully established. The final action scene was by far the standout of the film due to some great cinematography and direction.
Live by Night is an underwritten and unfortunately misguided attempt by Ben Affleck. This is the first misfire of his directing career and one that I can't recommend.