Movie Review – ‘Live by Night’

Review by J.T. Johnson


DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Robert Richardson
WRITER: Ben Affleck
MUSIC: Harry Gregson-Williams

Looking at the Rottentomatoes score for “Live by Night”, I see that the critics are not quite warming up to director Ben Affleck’s latest project. This is understandable because the film’s story is a bit of a mess, the ending doesn’t quite have the impact that the filmmakers probably want it to have, and it simply isn’t as strong as Affleck’s previous films.

By the time I finished watching the movie, though, I do think the pieces ultimately come together. Affleck’s direction and certain sequences are quite effective despite the film’s problems.

The movie tells the story of outlaw Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a man who robs people but he’s not truly a bad person at heart. The biggest “sin” he really commits is that he goes out with a mob boss’ girlfriend (Sienna Miller) and it eventually catches up to him. The mob boss, Albert White (Robert Glenister), discovers the affair and Joe ends up in prison for three years.

Afterwards, Joe leaves prison and joins the mob in order to move down to Florida. His plan is to exact his revenge on Albert… at first. Once Joe gets to Florida, the tone and motive of the story completely changes. Then, it changes again before circling back to why the film started in the first place.

In spite of this, Affleck manages to bring the full force of his acting and directing chops to the table. From an acting standpoint, Affleck makes Joe a sympathetic character and you do care for him despite the fact that he’s living a life of crime. That’s a tough act to make the audience believe in a man who takes part in despicable acts, but Affleck manages to pull off the magic trick.

From a directing and a cinematography standpoint, the movie visually looks good and you feel transported back to florida during the last days of Prohibition. The climactic shootout reminds audiences that Affleck is one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. In addition to Affleck’s performance, the performances of those he has assembled to star with him is also strong throughout the flick. 

Despite the narrative changing from a revenge flick to a standard gangster film and back again, I must admit that I was still interested in what was going on throughout. It could have been that we don’t have too many gangster films set in Florida and that interested me. The only problem is that the ending left me feeling a little bit letdown. This could have been helped had Affleck stuck to just one of his many narratives.

The focus of the movie is truly on Joe’s life and the Affleck could have done a better job at telling that story. Still, I can ultimately recommend this film due to Affleck’s strong abilities as a director even though it is inferior to his past projects such as “The Town” and “Argo”.

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