"Live by Night" is Ben Affleck's fourth directorial feature film and it also stars him as Joe Coughlin, an American gangster on the rise in 1930's America during the times of Prohibition. This movie basically follows Coughlin as he starts out as a bootlegger and gradually ascends into the ranks of notorious gangsters. A simple plot for sure, but it's all about execution and with a talented director like Affleck behind the camera, there's definitely potential for a great film.
If I were currently in my hometown of Phoenix, AZ, there's not a chance in hell that I'd be able to see this movie, but seeing as how I'm on a nice holiday vacation in New York City right now, I was fortunate enough to find a theater with this movie playing, so here's my review for a movie that's in a very limited release until Janurary.
Starting off with the performances, all of the actors in this movie did a good job in their roles. Ben Affleck continues to show that in a year where most of his movies have not been as successful as he'd want them to be, he's still the bright spot in these less than stellar films. Alongside him you have other actors like Brendan Gleeson doing a good job as Coughlin's father, Sienna Miller playing a likable enough love interest, Elle Fanning giving a typically great performance at such a young age, and Chris Cooper as always bringing his A-game to this specific role that he's in. Acting wise, there's nothing bad that can be said about this film, and the same goes for the production design.
I really liked the technical aspects of this movie, more specifically the overall look of it. This movie has an authentic 1920's/30's feel to it, from the set designs, the costumes, and just the general way of life portrayed in this time period. If we're talking about this movie purely from a technical standpoint, it's a solid film with a very high recommendation from myself, but this movie has to be judged on stuff like story and writing as well, and that's were things start to falter.
My biggest problem with this movie by far is the lack of originality. It's a gangster movie set in the Prohibition era, so right there you have a story that could fall victim to some of the now cliches that were introduced in movies like "Goodfellas" and unfortunately enough, this movie does fall right into a lot of those cliches. Not to give anything away, but the sad reality of this movie is that if you've seen literally any other gangster movie in film history, then you've already seen "Live by Night". The only difference is that in the year 2016, these ideas and plot points aren't new or surprising. As a matter of fact, they just come off as lazy and you really start to wonder where Affleck's head was when he was writing this script.
Another major issue with this movie is something that might sound petty to some, but here it goes: This movie just just plain boring in a lot of scenes. The lack of originality is definitely a factor into this, but you also have to take into account the characters and other elements of the story. The big problem is that Joe Coughlin is just very thinly written, coming off as nothing more than a brooding, emotionless wannabe gangster with the most basic of aspirations. I couldn't latch onto his character in the slightest and the end result of that (and the same can be said for other characters) is that the drama is very dull and lifeless. This is a very disappointing thing to say about a Ben Affleck film given the intensity of "Argo" and "The Town" as well as the intrigue of "Gone Baby Gone".
We all know that every great director is bound to make at least one disappointing film and "Live by Night" just happens to be Affleck's. It's technical achievements are worth noting, as is the acting, but the movie can't go anywhere if it doesn't have an interesting story to boot. This movie had the makings of one of 2016's best films, but Affleck unfortunately displays some of his weaknesses as a writer with this movie. Hell, it could very well be that he was more focused on his Batman film than this one, so a disappointing directorial feature film could be a fair trade-off for a hopefully great "Batman" film.