By Ian Morton
While it tries its hardest to establish a place amid the seemingly infinite amount of gangster flicks, a lack of depth and a confused narrative ultimately leave Live By Night out in the shadows.
Driven by revenge, small town crook Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) finds himself joining and eventually climbing the ranks of the Italian mafia in an effort to confront those that wronged him. Finding opportunity during prohibition hit 1920s New York, Coughlin is sent to Florida to both head up bootleg operations as well as hunt down his enemies.
Much like his character, Ben Affleck has climbed the ranks of his trade to become one of the most sought after directors in Hollywood. Trying feverishly to escape the stereotype that has shrouded him for years, hits such as Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Oscar winning drama Argo, have finally given him the platform he needed to really show off his skills. While Live By Night looked to continue his winning streak behind the camera, a sluggish story and messy subplots stop this from being another runaway hit for the talented film maker.
While there are underlying issues with the story, the film itself looks and feels great and really shows how Affleck is growing when he gets behind the lens. With a decent aesthetic, it’s clear that authenticity was important and it really comes across with each shot; whether chilling out in a speakeasy or braving the winter of New York, the scene is set really well.
Once over the visual spectacle however, it soon becomes apparent that there isn’t a lot else to go on. Adapted from Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, the real issue here isnt necessarily with the plotlines themselves but rather the amount the film tries to cover at once. The slow burning central narrative mixed with a seemingly endless supply of subplots takes the snail pace storytelling the genre is known for down to almost a complete stop, forcing them to ditch any depth in order for the audience to at least feel like they are moving in the right direction. The result ultimately stops the story from gaining any traction from one of its many plot points.
The performances as a whole are fairly decent, although it has to be said that Chris Cooper and relative newcomer Elle Fanning steal the scene at every opportunity. Affleck, at points, comes across as a little wooden but on the whole plays his part with reasonable success. In general, the cast is good but once again, lack of depth really doesn’t really give the cast the push they need.
At the end of the day, Live By Night never really gets off the ground. A narrative bogged down by underdeveloped subplots and the lack of any true depth stop this from following in the footsteps of Scorsese, Coppola and De Palma classics. I wanted to love this movie but ultimately left the cinema disappointed. 2 out of 5 stars.
Still catching up on that bucket list of movies from 2016? Check out what we thought of the years movies with out top 10’s: