Cocktails and Movies Review: “Live By Night” – Score Another One For Ben Affleck.

by Mike Reyes

A slow burning film noir that defies modern convention, Live By Night chooses its moments of violence and introspection carefully, delivering a much needed and powerful punch.

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2016 looked like another year that it was cool to bag on Ben Affleck. Between Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice tanking creatively, and Bret Easton Ellis throwing shade on his solo Batman flick, the writer/director/actor wasn’t having a good time. And yet, folks couldn’t help but take one last shot as they gave mixed to panning reviews of his latest film, Live By Night, as a triple threat. This is a damned shame, because not only is the film a fantastic entry into the canon of gangster films, it should be an awards contender.

Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) doesn’t want to work for anybody after coming home from World War I. Fed up with killing and taking orders, he becomes a criminal-for-hire, excelling at the job with skill and style. But whether he likes it or not, he’s about to get caught up in the gang war between the Irish and Italian mobs, as it starts in Boston and spreads down to Florida, during the thick of Prohibition. Joe might be through with killing, but killing’s not through with him.

The first thing I noticed about Live By Night was, in fact, it’s pacing. It has moments of adrenaline fueled action and suspense, but unlike most other films of its ilk, it doesn’t let itself go too far into the excesses of violent showdowns. However, when violence is visited upon the settings of Live By Night, it’s sure as hell brutal. But to the average movie-goer, the deliberately slow clip of the film’s proceedings could be a bit off putting.

It’s not to say that nothing happens during Ben Affleck’s latest writing/directing effort. As a matter of fact, plenty happens throughout the film. The big difference between the Live By Night audiences probably expected versus what’s on the screen is all in the drama the film conveys. It’s Joe’s reluctance to kill that puts the film on the track it’s on, and by time the climactic showdown in the third act arrives, you can see why they saved the big beats for later in the film.

Besides the action though, Affleck’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s second Coughlin novel is something that the world could use a little more of these days: it’s an honest to god film noir. The dialogue crackles, the wardrobe pops, and the color palette reminds us we’re in a different time period. Honestly, this film would make a great double feature with the similarly excellent Gangster Squad, as that film is the action-heavy opposite to this very thought out drama. The only, minor, complaint I have is that some of the story beats feel lifted directly from The Godfather. While it’s to be expected, Live By Night works best when it stands on its own two feet.

Another asset in Ben Affleck’s tool-kit is, as always, the tremendous cast he’s assembled for Live By Night. With some faces that’ll shock you with their familiarity, and others you’ll just be happy to see, no player is wasted in their role. But besides Affleck himself, particular attention should be paid to Elle Fanning’s Loretta Figgis and Chris Messina’s Dion Bartolo. Both characters figure prominently into Joe’s life, and the performances behind them bring the pathos and humor needed to balance everything out.

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If you’re on the fence about seeing Live By Night, don’t even bother thinking: just go. A living, breathing embodiment of pulp crime novels of the past, the film is an exciting work of art. While it may not make any sort of splash on the awards circuit, it’s sure as hell exciting to watch. Fingers crossed the other two Lehane novels, The Given Day and World Gone By, make it to the big screen in their own time, as this story is far from over.

My Review: 4.5 / 5