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[Movie Review] Live by Night (2016)

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Plot Summary: A story set in the Prohibition Era and centered around a group of individuals and their dealings in the world of organized crime.

Director: Ben Afffleck

Writers: Ben Affleck

Runtime: 2hr 8min

Main Cast:
  • Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin
  • Scott Eastwood as Danny Coughlin
  • Zoe Saldana as Graciella Suarez
  • Elle Fanning as Loretta Figgis
  • Sienna Miller as Emma Gould

Review: by Chris

Ben Affleck has come a long way from being that mediocre actor from Gigli and Daredevil to being one of the best actor/directors in the game. After 3 fantastic movies; Affleck brings novel Live by Night to the screen. He plays Joe Coughlin, a WWI veteran turned stick up man, as he tries to survive and thrive amongst gangsters while still trying to be the best man he can be. From dealing with the mob in the North, to running bootlegging during prohibition in Florida Coughlin has a long road ahead of him. The trailers had me excited with beautiful cinematography and a director trusted with putting out solid work... and after seeing it....well...3 great films outta 4 isn't that bad. But Ben really missed the mark on this a long shot.

What I Liked:

So before I rag on all the things that bugged me about this movie I’ll get to the few things I actually liked about this movie. For one, the cast is amazing; like truly AMAZING. From Chris Coopers great turn as a town sheriff that knows the evil men do, but allows it for the stability. To Elle Fanning as his troubled daughter, Brenden Gleeson as Coughlins father, and Chris Messina looking almost unrecognizable as Dion Bartolo, Coughlins associate/partner. All the actors are believable in their roles and do their best with the material, with some of them giving scene-stealing performances.

This movie is beautiful. One of the best period piece films that I’ve seen in a long time. Gorgeous helicopter shots showing Tampa swamps and bayous. A visual tone that had me feel in sync perfectly with the rough time America faced post-war and the diverse, vibrancy of southern Florida. With production design that almost fooled me into thinking I was actually viewing a story in post-war America. Early Florida towns having dirt roads, period accurate wardrobes and sets, just a beautiful movie to look at.

This movie made me really interested in the book. I will go into more detail in the “Things I didn’t like” section, but this movie has some interesting things to say. Its many themes about being a good man and having a code, and what that means to a man willing to do anything to survive, mixed with many of the societal ills of post-WWI America. The rich cast all play very interesting, detailed characters which sadly didn’t get enough development.  I google searched the book as soon as I left the theater and looking forward to checking it out.

OLD SCHOOL CAR CHASE. So there is a bank robbery scene early on with a very intense car chase with old-timey cars that I just LOVED. Shot amazingly, fantastically paced and just really well done. It’s not often I see old era cars involved with a modern style chase and it was def worth it and a damn fine scene.

What I Didn’t Like:

TOO BIG. UGH, this may be the best mediocre film of all time. It’s just painful seeing the final product and the wasted potential from the source. As stated above there is a lot this story is trying to say, but I don’t think Affleck had the time or the film to get them all in here. After a strong, focused opening act that establishes almost everything you want in a movie of this type…the movie rushes through DECADES of time in Coughlins life. With new foes showing up only to disappear shortly near after, often through montages or events happening off screen. It’s really frustrating at times, because many of these plots are compelling.

Odd pacing also hurts this film.  It feels truly disjointed when scenes quickly cut to years later or having odd jokes and voice-overs adding nothing to scene they inhabit. All those great characters I mentioned in what I liked have their character arcs abruptly cut short having me looking at the screen like “wait, THAT’S IT???”

Ben Affleck and Joe Coughlin are sometimes the worst parts of this film. Ben often looms over the other actors and looks very uncomfortable in the period appropriate clothes, with coats looking like costumes in comparison. His Joe Coughlin often has very little in terms of drama, at least believable drama for the audience. Coughlin is somehow smarter, better, meaner, nicer, and cooler than everyone he is involved in. Able to woo beautiful women at first sight by doing nothing and having strangers comment on him being “a good man” where all of his on-screen behavior says otherwise. Minus one or 2 moments of weakness and an unintentionally flat ending, he always wins, he’s always that much better than everyone else and it makes for a boring film. There is one very odd moment when Coughlin is talking to a racist land owner and he gives a speech about the brown people rising up and I couldn’t help but laugh. It was an awful scene with Ben looking directly into the camera on some Spike Lee stuff and it was just unbelievable. An Irish mafia type preaching racial injustice in the ’20s??? Nah, no matter how many afro-cubans he can bang in this movie could make me buy that, especially when it’s to add to this “good man” stuff the movie totes around.

Images Courtesy of IMDB

  • MosesTheArtist

    I’ve read some of your other reviews in the past and I like how you structure them. I’ll definitely skip this film but did like the line “this may be the best mediocre film of all time.”

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