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Review: Live By Night

Live By Night
01.09.2017
8 10

PLOT: A war-vet (Ben Affleck) rises through the ranks to becomes a notorious bootlegger and gangster during prohibition.

REVIEW: Part of me wishes Ben Affleck had started off LIVE BY NIGHT with the old Warner Bros. logo from the thirties and forties. It would have been highly appropriate given how much of a throwback this feels to the old-time gangster melodramas the studio put out in the thirties, including the all-time classics that kick-started the careers of legends like James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.

Cagney especially seems to be an influence here, with Affleck’s good-bad guy not a far cry from the noble gangsters the icon played in two of my WB’s faves, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES and THE ROARING TWENTIES. It fits in nicely with his body-of-work as a director, having the atmosphere of GONE BABY, GONE, the firepower of THE TOWN, and the scale/confidence of ARGO. It all adds up to a pretty nifty package, even if the final film, which comes in at over two hours, is still missing a little something that, had it been tacked-on, might have made LIVE BY NIGHT more of the epic it’s trying to be rather than a very solid adult thriller.

The first part of the film is where it feels compromised, as if Affleck, wanting to tighten it up, went in an excised some material. As such, the first half hour, tracing the hero, Joe Coughlin’s (Affleck) days as a low level gangster with a cop dad (Brendan Gleeson) and a lover (Sienna Miller) that just happens to be the mistress of a psycho gangster (Robert Glenister), is uneven. Here, it kind of jumps all over the place, giving the family aspect short shift (a brother is often referred to but never seen), which starts the movie off on an awkward foot.

Luckily, once the second act kicks in, Affleck finds his footing. It’s here that the main focus of the film starts, with Coughlin rising up as a boss in Tampa, forging an alliance with the mixed-race crew his Mafia bosses ignore, leading to problems with his bosses and the local KKK chapter. Affleck, adapting Dennis Lehane’s novel himself, is able to work in a lot about how the disenfranchised are oppressed by those that rely on them, something that’s still pretty relevant, making this one of the more socially aware gangster tales I’ve seen in a while.

Through it all, Affleck never skimps on action, staging plenty of large-scale gun fights, bolstered by the hard-R rating, Harry Gregson-Williams's score and Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography. The cast is top-shelf, with Zoe Saldana as Affleck’s eventual love interest, Chris Messina as his quick-tempered right-hand man, and Chris Cooper as a local cop blackmailed into dealing with the bootleggers.

Of them all, the most impressive performance comes from Elle Fanning, as Cooper’s daughter, who becomes a junkie and eventually a big-time tent preacher. It’s another very impressive turn for her, and it also allows Affleck to make his own character more gray-shaded than you’d imagine. Altogether, it ads up to a very entertaining gangster picture. As it stands, LIVE BY NIGHT is probably my least favorite of Affleck’s films as a director (GONE BABY, GONE and ARGO are 10’s for me, THE TOWN is a strong 9), but that’s only because it feels like something’s missing. If this one gets a director’s cut, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if people’s estimation of it grows considerably. Until then, it’s still a damn solid crime flick.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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7:37PM on 01/09/2017
The Town is still my favorite of his directorial efforts. I'm very excited to this film. I'm a fan of the time period and Affleck seems to have captured the aesthetic of the period quite nicely. I also feel we're due for a good gangster film, I hope this one fills the void.
The Town is still my favorite of his directorial efforts. I'm very excited to this film. I'm a fan of the time period and Affleck seems to have captured the aesthetic of the period quite nicely. I also feel we're due for a good gangster film, I hope this one fills the void.
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9:57AM on 01/09/2017

I'm very much looking forward to this one.

I read the book this fall in preparation. I was a little bummed when early reviews started coming out for this one and pretty much squelched any Oscar buzz. I don't live and die by the Oscars but I guess the expectations the studio had for the movie got me extremely excited. Although as I was looking back on the book it really is a lot more action-oriented than Mystic River or Gone Baby Gone (or even some of Lehane's other books). I think it's even more action-oriented than The Town. I don't
I read the book this fall in preparation. I was a little bummed when early reviews started coming out for this one and pretty much squelched any Oscar buzz. I don't live and die by the Oscars but I guess the expectations the studio had for the movie got me extremely excited. Although as I was looking back on the book it really is a lot more action-oriented than Mystic River or Gone Baby Gone (or even some of Lehane's other books). I think it's even more action-oriented than The Town. I don't think the book itself fits into that Oscar mold anyways. At the end of the day I'm a sucker for anything prohibition era so I'll definitely check it out.
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9:21AM on 01/09/2017
It looks like Public Enemies or Lawless. Both were alright but kinda forgettable. Hopefully this one will leeave more of an impression
It looks like Public Enemies or Lawless. Both were alright but kinda forgettable. Hopefully this one will leeave more of an impression
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1:56AM on 01/09/2017
Is it just me or does Elle seem to a have a slight touch of down syndrome? And why the hell has her career completely eclipsed her sister Dakota's. I always thought Dakota was an extremely talented actor.
Is it just me or does Elle seem to a have a slight touch of down syndrome? And why the hell has her career completely eclipsed her sister Dakota's. I always thought Dakota was an extremely talented actor.
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8:40PM on 12/21/2016
Extremely happy to read that this is another strong, well made and told directorial film from Affleck and that it's just as great as his previous three. Been anticipating this ever since the closing credits of Argo to see what Affleck would present us with next. It looks amazing and only gives me that much more confidence in him directing the best Batman film we have seen up to date. Can't wait.
Extremely happy to read that this is another strong, well made and told directorial film from Affleck and that it's just as great as his previous three. Been anticipating this ever since the closing credits of Argo to see what Affleck would present us with next. It looks amazing and only gives me that much more confidence in him directing the best Batman film we have seen up to date. Can't wait.
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12:29PM on 12/21/2016
Glad to hear this is a good movie. I've been loving Affleck's recent turn as director/actor. He's been turning out some solid films and performances the last few years. Glad to hear this movie keeps that trend continuing.
Glad to hear this is a good movie. I've been loving Affleck's recent turn as director/actor. He's been turning out some solid films and performances the last few years. Glad to hear this movie keeps that trend continuing.
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11:25AM on 12/21/2016

Composer is wrong in article

It's Harry Gregson-Williams, not Wagner.
It's Harry Gregson-Williams, not Wagner.
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11:22AM on 12/21/2016

Awesome

Reading the book right now. It's fantastic. I had a suspicion with the run time it might skimp a little. So wish this was releasing Christmas day in this area. Of all his three previous films I actually love The Town the most. Great review! Glad to hear it's a solid film even if Don Johnson isn't in it.
Reading the book right now. It's fantastic. I had a suspicion with the run time it might skimp a little. So wish this was releasing Christmas day in this area. Of all his three previous films I actually love The Town the most. Great review! Glad to hear it's a solid film even if Don Johnson isn't in it.
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12:01PM on 12/21/2016
The Town is the one I remember the most, mainly because it reminds me of something Jules Dassin would make. If this is Affleck's ode to the 1930s gangster movie, that one owes as much to the crime movies of the '50s as it does to Michael Mann.
The Town is the one I remember the most, mainly because it reminds me of something Jules Dassin would make. If this is Affleck's ode to the 1930s gangster movie, that one owes as much to the crime movies of the '50s as it does to Michael Mann.
8:41PM on 12/21/2016
I think Argo is his masterpiece, but The Town is my personal favorite of his.
I think Argo is his masterpiece, but The Town is my personal favorite of his.
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