It’s been a bad year for Ben Affleck. He’s one of this generation’s best, and arguably most consistent, actor/directors, but I think– like most of us – he will be trying his best to forget 2016. Live by Night is the third Affleck film produced last year, after the horrendous Batman v Superman and the passable The Accountant. It’s something of a passion project; Affleck wrote, directed and starred in it. But, sadly, it’s not much better than either of his other 2016 projects.
I really wanted to like this film. Affleck’s catalogue of directorial works is excellent, the source material is strong, and the gangster genre often produces highly memorable and acclaimed movies. But, sadly, I fear Live by Night will be quickly forgotten in the flurry of awards darlings hitting the screens this month.
Why? Quite simply, because it’s a bit of a mess and a bore. Live by Night tells an American Dream story through the eyes of Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston policeman, who has fallen to a life of crime. With numerous twists and turns, and countless subplots, the heart of the yarn suffers and even Affleck’s assured direction can’t quite save it. I found myself losing grasp of the story after the first act, meaning that by the time we reached the end I wasn’t particularly convinced by the outcome.
This is sad, because the cast are excellent – if underutilised – and the action and car chase sequences are very well executed and strongly directed. Live by Night is let down by a poor script and some weak editing choices, creating a slow burn drama that is just a bit too slow and a bit too messy to be the masterpiece I am sure it could have been. It’s not the worst gangster film ever made, but it’s certainly not the Godfather either.
Reviewed by Stewart Sowman-Lund.