Live By Night Review
Disillusioned army vet Joe Coughlin returns home to Boston during the height of the prohibition era, determined make his fortune as a career criminal while navigating a dangerous world of guns, girls and gangsters.
Ben Affleck has indisputably proved his directing credentials with the well-deserved awards glory of Argo. Once again with Live By Night he demonstrates that he’s entirely capable of carrying the responsibility of leading man duties at the same time as those of the director’s chair. Affleck’s performance as Coughlin plays to his strengths, making good use of his gravel coated voice and a never ending supply of sternly confident expressions. Perhaps the best compliment is that looking the part in classic gangster attire Affleck manages to avoid ever looking or feeing like an embarrassing Hollywood cliché.
Live By Night has a well-honed and evidently lavish production value that elevates every aspect of both the story and the performances from a strong supporting cast of recognisable character actors. Fans of classic cars will especially get a kick out of seeing such a wealth of vintage vehicles in pristine condition and high speed use. The film’s look and feel instantly elevates it above a host of low quality gangster flicks. Lush cinematography and attentive production design lend the film an extra dimension of historic credibility.
Though the sprawling American gangster genre has produced many popular and critically acclaimed classics, sadly Live By Night does not quite do enough to join those distinguished ranks. Though boasting laudable production value and competent performances from a watchable cast, the film ultimately meanders through a fairly familiar and predictable narrative. Perhaps the true problem is that given the long held cinematic obsession with the golden age of American gangsters it’s simply impossible to avoid comparison with the near perfect versions of those stories that already exist. The Godfather series among others still casts an overwhelming shadow over the genre. There’s simply very that audiences haven’t already seen countless times from the genre.
The Godfather expertly articulated the ruthless scheming and moral complexities of true ‘Gangster’ life. Likewise more modern icons like Goodfellas or Scarface celebrated the shameless excess and anarchic fun of uninhibited criminals truly living without rules. Unfortunately Live By Night does neither. Despite delivering heavy handed monologues about ‘not playing by societies rules’ Coughlin isn’t truly bad enough to give audiences vicarious thrills or to act as an effective cautionary tale.
Though the film delivers moments of action and builds towards a partially satisfying climax, it also falters at times with subplots that inject redundant melodrama into proceedings rather than an intended emotional depth. Ellle Fanning is undeniably talented but her tragic character remains a key example of this. Likewise Sienna Miller may share headline billing but her minimal screen presence simply doesn’t lend her charter the compelling significance the story strains to place upon her.
The Ugly Truth
Live By Night is a competently made if unremarkable addition to the gangster genre. A solid cast and impressive visuals keep proceedings watchable in a story that while predictable in places is at least peppered with frequent bursts of attention grabbing action.
Review by Russell Nelson