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Review: Live By Night

Ben Affleck and Chris Messina star in Warner Bros. Pictures' LIVE BY NIGHT

Riding the kind of streak that Ben Affleck has been on since he started directing films brings about high expectations. At some point, audiences and critics alike anticipate his work and count on being entertained. That’s why many began looking out for Live By Night, a venture that sees him prominently being featured as a director, screenwriter and actor. Learning about the story, you know why it could be good, but after watching it, you will also understand why Affleck wasn’t able to keep his momentum moving in an upward trajectory.

Based on the book of the same name, the movie features Affleck as Joe Coughlin, a WWI vet who turned into an outlaw once returning home. A criminal who never wanted to work with the mafia, Coughlin gets dragged into that world and leads him down a dangerous road filled with violence, lust, love and deception. In turn, loyalties are questioned while the desire for vengeance arises and causes problems for many on the eastern part of the United States.

Live By Night starts well enough as we follow the protagonist through the streets of Boston and its surrounding areas. They manage to build up the anticipation properly as he finds himself in some dangerous situations due to not always making the best choices. By the end of the first act, you’re fully engaged by what you’ve seen and you’re likely waiting to see how they can outdo themselves.

The second act literally feels like the start of a second movie. We’re introduced to a gang of new characters and settings along with new responsibilities for Couglin. By itself, this isn’t a bad thing, but you eventually begin to see the flaws that are sprinkled throughout the film. The largest problem presented here are the uneven aspects of the film that make there way onto the screen for the rest of its duration.

Right when this act begins, things slow down a good bit. After sitting through the opening act that we just witnessed, this proves to be somewhat of a letdown as we were just getting into the fun. During the second act, we’re introduced to the love story that carries a large chunk of it. This isn’t needed and ultimately gets pushed to the back after spending a decent amount of time in the spotlight. This leads to the movie being even patchier as Zoe Saldana goes from being a character to a near after thought.

Because of what it includes and the way it is all set up, Live By Night feels more like three novels forced into one movie instead of one novel being adapted for the big screen. There are so many layers here that it’s hard to find a steady flow to all that’s going on. It’s not even that any of it is really bad, but it just contains so many congested parts that as a viewer, you’re not allowed to get settled in.

One of the positives about this picture is easily the characters. Many of them bring an appealing level of personality that is distinct and valuable to everything that’s taking place. The casting proves to help in this with the way they deliver lines that can be both harsh and amusing depending on the circumstances. While I didn’t mind it at all, this could lead the experience to feel even more unbalanced for some of the people who choose to watch it.

The action seen in Live by Night is also of fine quality. While it certainly resembles more video game violence than real life, it’s good stuff and is orchestrated like it’s coming straight out of an action movie. That’s strange when considering that this is something of a dramatic picture, but it’s a welcome addition to the film as a whole.

There’s a lot to be said here and that could be negative or positive. Most of it has to do with the picture being too long and too choppy. The way you remedy many of Live by Night‘s issues is by taking a little bit of the story out and attempting to make a more focused film. Doing this would eliminate a character or two as well, but the outcome would likely have been a product that was lot smoother and easier for its customers to digest.

Based on what it is, I can see some people being satisfied with what they get. It can kind of be seen as a “crowd pleaser” where you do want the protagonist to come out on top in spite of his illegal transgressions. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t, but it’s something that can deliver on some of what you might want to get out of your cinematic experience. With that being the case, there’s an audience out there who won’t regret watching it. I just wish is was polished enough for me to really appreciate it.

Rating: R

Director: Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck
Elle Fanning
Brendan Gleeson
Chris Messina
Sienna Miller
Zoe Saldana
Chris Cooper

Film Length: 129 minutes

Release Date: January 13, 2017

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

  • Score - 6/10
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