Live by Night
I’ve been a fan of Ben Affleck’s directional efforts ever since I saw Gone Baby Gone way back in 2007 in theaters. I also loved The Town and think its his best film to date. Live by Night sort of came out of nowhere but I’m always down for Prohibition era crime films. The film seemed to get lukewarm reviews but there was no way I wasn’t going to see this for myself. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed it and its better than what other critics are saying.
The film is set in Boston (and then Tampa) and is the story of the son of a police captain, who becomes a bootlegger and gangster. Be forewarned that there isn’t much that separates this from gangster films we’ve seen before, however Affleck knows what he’s doing and I think he does it well. The thing that pops out to me is the dialogue. Its quite clever and witty. There’s funny moments and the film isn’t always super serious, which is refreshing. Not everything in the script has to be explained as the viewers are expected to follow the message. The suits, cars, glamour, of the 20s and 30s is captured quite well (not that I lived in that era to really know if it was accurate). Some of the dialogue was hard to hear in theaters (the accents probably contributed to this). I think this film will one day warrant a second view anyways.
While I really enjoyed the film, it isn’t without faults. It really depends on whether you can forgive the film for that or really see it as a detriment. Some of the characters felt loose and suddenly disappear. This includes Siena Miller, Elle Fanning and Brendan Gleeson. Fates of characters are explained and such but they feel unfulfilled. I thought Fanning’s character was just becoming great, but as I said unfulfilled. Miller’s character arc was just so odd as well (maybe rushed to fit the story). Well, at least my boy Miguel was in this. The film seems to want to tackle a few foes/events in different parts of the film and doesn’t always do it seamlessly, which makes the film seem unfocused. The events of the third act felt rushed together just to come to a resolution. Without going into spoiling there’s a head scratching moment near the end that seemed out of left field. I didn’t have too many problems with all this and maybe its because I’m partial to Affleck and gangster films.
I enjoyed the car chase and gun battles. I think the comic element of the film kind of swept into the action scenes which made it enjoyable. I liked that the film takes place in Tampa and mixes with the Black and Cuban community as well. Its nice to see a sort of different locality in a gangster film. I’m sure there’s much more I want to ramble about but nothings coming to me. Overall, this probably won’t be something that’ll be a the top of year end lists but its thoroughly enjoyable even through its flaws. Its not Affleck’s best but I applaud him for directing and writing films in a time where he’s busy being in blockbusters.