Live by Night (2016)
Directed by: Ben Affleck | 128 minutes | crime, drama | Actors: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Remo Girone, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Glenister, Matthew Maher, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, Christian Clemenson, JD Evermore, Clark Gregg, Anthony Michael Hall , Chris Sullivan, Benjamin Ciaramello
Although Ben Affleck has quite a few decent roles to his name (including in ‘Chasing Amy’, ‘Good Will Hunting’, ‘Changing Lanes’ and ‘Batman vs Superman’), he has never really been taken for granted as an actor. However, the director Ben Affleck immediately received critical acclaim when he made his first feature film in 2007 with ‘Gone Baby Gone’. With ‘The Town’ from 2010, Affleck managed to maintain that form and two years later his political thriller ‘Argo’ even won the Oscar for best picture. It is therefore logical that expectations were high for the release of his next film project, ‘Live By Night’, which hit the cinemas in 2016. Some disappointment is then inevitable. Yet ‘Live By Night’ is not the embarrassment that most of the critics make it seem. The 1920s period film about the rise of a conscientious mobster is classy, has good production values and competent actors, but is simply not very special across the board. Also, perhaps the wrong form has been chosen for a saga with such a wide scope.
‘Live By Night’ is clearly Ben Affleck’s love letter to classic gangster films and the appearance is certainly there, with suits, hats, classic cars and machine guns that transport you perfectly back to the 1920s. Ben Affleck fits the clothes just fine, but he does walk around a bit stiffly at times, with his rather hefty, muscular body; probably a remnant of his Batman role. And just like in ‘Allied’, that other recent ‘period’ movie starring Brad Pitt, it all looks a bit too clinical and spotless, somewhat detracting from the authenticity of the film. But otherwise everything is fine, with beautiful photography and camerawork that gives the whole an epic, exciting or brooding character.
It’s been a while, but Affleck doesn’t always completely convince or at least captivate like the main character Joe Coughlin. The passion that he must radiate in the relationship(s) with his wives or girlfriends is not always evident and for a large part of the film he makes a rather depressed impression. This gangster life is no fun at all. He does explain that he is some sort of gangster – or bandit, because he works for nobody and doesn’t kill (initially) anyone – against his will and thanks, but there can be a bit of fun or a certain ‘coolness’, because why otherwise would the viewer want to invest time in it? Now such ‘fire’ is present at regular intervals – for example when he confidently begins to take over the rum trade or confronts some KKK leaders – but unfortunately just too little. Of course, it can be a strong and intriguingly dramatic point that Joe actually wants to get out and that he might actually be trying to punish the ‘real’ villains and/or change the system from within, but again there is not enough paid attention to this angle in order to convincingly bring it to the fore.
In addition, Coughlin’s humane, (semi) nonviolent approach is not presented consistently and credibly enough. Because while he starts out as a fairly conscientious bandit and we therefore have to sympathize with him, there are several incidents after which he quite coolly removes his (probable) opponents. Vito Corleone also sometimes left a horse’s head in a bed or had his (arch) enemies murdered, but there was always a certain honorable code that he used. Joe Coughlin sometimes acts more like the hot-headed Vincent (Andy Garcia) in ‘The Godfather part III’ than Don Vito.
Although Affleck’s portrayal is generally fine, and it is certainly not a mockery – in certain intimate, subdued scenes opposite, for example, Elle Fanning or Chris Cooper, he is very good – but too often there is a lack of necessary energy or pathos to make the character interesting. to make. Of course it’s tempting to cast yourself in the lead role, but a different actor, with a little more ‘swagger’, would have been better.
But the main problem is that the film is overcrowded with themes and developments that almost all deserve a whole separate film on their own, but because they are put together here, they get too little attention. Coughlin’s affair with a mobster sweetheart, relationship with his father who is a detective, the rivalry between an Irish and an Italian mob boss, gaining a monopoly in the rum trade during the Prohibition era, opening a casino and speculating on legalizing it. gambling, the struggles and conflicts with religious groups, the influence and power of the Klu Klux Klan and the confrontations with this often ridiculed group; these are all topics that are covered in ‘Live By Night’. And then through that the message or story must also be told about walking the right path, choosing love and living (optimally) in the now (instead of waiting for the hereafter). So this seems more like a miniseries than a two-hour movie. So this has been a little too ambitious plan for Affleck, it seems.
But still. But still. What we get is often captivating enough (not to walk away) and makes you long for more and the atmosphere is a pleasant one. It’s a nice look into the past and usually, just when you’re about to lose focus, an exciting shootout or chase takes place, which suddenly keeps you on track. The shots that are fired often startle you with their intense, realistic sound, often without music or preparation and there are some, it must be said, very exciting, fierce confrontations in the film; one at the end that pretty much lifts the entire film to a higher level.
However, this would not have been possible without the excellent interpretations of some important (supporting) roles. Elle Fanning as the fragile yet powerful daughter of a police commissioner, Brendan Gleeson as Joe’s tough and soft (police) father, Robert Glenister as a wonderfully villainous villain, Chris Cooper as the righteous but realistic commissioner who understands that you certain villains have to negotiate, and Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana, as two completely different objects of love for Joe, all work together to ensure that ‘Live By Night’ doesn’t become a substandard, swaggering movie. All in all, ‘Live By Night’ can at least be called an interesting film, in which there is much to enjoy, but too little time has been taken – or hard choices have been made – to work out the stories properly. A bit of a shame, because there is clearly much more in it.