Live By Night: Ben Affleck's latest movie has ambition but lacks soul
Live By Night has the benefit of an impressive cast. Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana are all stellar performers in their own right.
Throw in costume designer Jacqueline West's impeccable lapels, fedoras, skirts and more that put '20s era clothing on the map and you have the ingredients necessary to make Live By Night the prohibition time gangster flick it aimed to be. Unfortunately, you'd be sorely mistaken if you thought the new movie directed, written and starring Ben Affleck was going to be a hit. It's a train wreck.
A one-star movie
Based on Dennis Lehane's 2012 crime novel "Live by Night", this movie is essentially a gangster movie. An epic, most definitely not. It is a wannabe epic though, as it is aspires and yearns to be in the same league as The Godfather (it noticeably borrows from the movie). The movie almost seems like Ben Affleck testing the bounds of the Academy's love for him. It's indulgent in a way that stems from winning accolades for previous work (His last, Argo, netted him a Best Picture Oscar).
While it is ambitious, it is still a one-star movie (both literally and figuratively). Ben Affleck lives too many lives in the movie, while relegating the supporting cast - especially the women - to mere scenery. As a result, the characters are half-baked and you don't shed an iota of emotion for their plight.
Two movies in one
The story is a simple case of two movies in one. The first showcases Affleck as a robber and a stickup man during the prohibition era. An outlaw, as he calls himself. He "sleeps by day and lives by night", hence the name of the movie. Despite his criminal streak, he's still a good guy as he has zero gang affiliations. The turn comes when a bank robbery goes horribly wrong.
The second half is about revenge on the mob boss that took away the love of his life. It's melodramatic in parts and the action sequences feels like drawn out and sluggish. While the first half in Boston may come close to what is portrayed on screen in The Town, the second half in Florida does the film no favours.
It's got the makings of an epic: A Good-guy gangster from Boston who loves his ladies, has been in the wars and is a masterful bootlegger. There are the car chases, shootouts, some bad cops (to balance out the good gangster, of course!) and even a loyal partner acting as the 'inside man' (notice how the movie uses men and not women).
Despite all of this it does nothing to elicit the feeling of a thriller. One can guess the end, one can even guess the various plotlines, if they've seen just a handful of these types of movies before. For once, most of what was in the trailer, gets over in the first half-hour itself, but even then, the element of surprise and suspense, just doesn't figure. The various locations look dull on the big screen and even the car chase sequences are exceptionally poorly done, especially for a big budget flick.
A boring protagonist
Ben Affleck might have done better by not playing the lead character himself. Taking himself out of the role might have helped him develop a character that wasn't soulless about every 'business' decision he made in the movie.
Ben Affleck, as young gangster Joe Coughlin, brings nothing new to the table. The character is one that has everything easy and you wonder where the obstacles may occur. He's shot and recovers, he's threatened but unfazed, he gazes (with good guy intentions) at the ladies who instantly fall for him, he also helps the women pursue their dreams and even takes out the Ku Klux Klan. He goes for broke as the good-guy, stopping at absolutely nothing. Yet, despite all this, the bland and lackluster actor that he is in this movie (a stark departure from who he is as an actor and even director) is disappointing.
Affleck has adapated a Dennis Lehan novel before: Gone Baby Gone.
It was Affleck's directorial debut in 2007 and was stunning, while staying simplistic and raw. From his first to his latest, Affleck has directed many good movies - The Town and Argo - and has been a good actor in multiple movies like Gone Girl and The Accountant. So to expect something half decent is only normal.
If Affleck had shortened the movie by fifteen minutes and followed a singular narrative - not gone down too many paths - while making his ladies more than just sidekicks, the movie might have been akin to The Departed. Instead, Affleck went for broke and ended up with, well, a broken movie.