I have always preferred Ben Affleck as a director than an actor. GONE BABY GONE, ARGO, THE TOWN – all superb and somewhat classy nuanced movies. So it was quite a surprise that LIVE BY NIGHT is nowhere near as good as his earlier work. I had the pleasure of attending a preview screening last night at Event Cinemas George St where they commenced the evening in the foyer with a talented jazz trio and cocktails. Great evening and on a very big side note – HUGE CONGRATULATIONS and THANKS to Event Cinemas for finally after about twenty years renovating the toilets – I squealed with delight. I used to manage this place from about 1996 and the toilets hadn’t changed.
Anyways back to the movie. LIVE BY NIGHT is out on Australia Day in Australia from Warner Bros and Roadshow. It is rated MA15+ and runs for 129mins.
BY JASON KING
LIVE BY NIGHT SYNOPSIS:
LIVE BY NIGHT is about petty thug turned gangster, Joe Coughlin. Coughlin is stupid in his youth and dates one of the biggest crime boss’s girlfriends on the side. One of his petty crimes sees three police killed in a car-chase and as he is being caught by police his girlfriend is murdered and he is beaten to the point of near death. He spends three years in prison and emerges wanting to be a gangster, mainly to find and murder the crime boss, Albert White, who murdered his/ their girlfriend. He takes up with Albert White’s biggest rival, Italian crime boss, Maso Pescatore.
Coughlin heads to Florida on the orders of his new boss to take over the operations of rum production. It’s prohibition time and crime is rife. It is the 20s and in Florida so is the KKK, it’s not the most trusting or safe times.
LIVE BY NIGHT is Affleck’s movie from the brilliant Dennis Lehane’s book. They did GONE BABY GONE together so this should have been a shoe in. Lehane’s books transfer to film well. SHUTTER ISLANDS nabs my fave because Leo (of course), but MYSTIC RIVER and GONE BABY GONE are also brilliant.
Affleck wanted this one to create an homage of his love of OG gangster movies. He was aiming for Scorcese and Coppola but sadly delivered Affleck on a bad day.
I tried so hard to love this movie and it has a lot to love about it, but sadly it also has a lot to dislike about it. The film is incredibly stunning to look at, the lensing from Robert Richardson (THE HATEFUL EIGHT, DJANGO UNCHAINED) is just beautiful. It is paired magnificently with the set design and location sets. This movie looks the 20s part well. Added to that is stunning costumes (excluding Affleck’s suits), cars and speakeasies.
Besides the movie looking good it has one of the best “old-car” car chases I have seen in years, it is edge of your seat brilliance and I had to let out my breath at its conclusion. LIVE BY NIGHT also offers up one of the best shoot outs in recent memory and it does not hold back. Some scenes are horrific, from people being thrown off roofs to many head shots.
But these epic scenes, some great performances and the beauty of the film do not hold this together. Affleck just can’t seem to give the film personality. Or more so his main character personality. His direction fails to give this the gravitas Lehane’s story deserved. It was a 500 page epic gangster story and in the end the 129min movie was about 20mins too long with an unfavourable drawn out ending, choppy pacing and unclear genres or character motives.
MY BIGGEST GRIPE:
My biggest issue was that Affleck’s motives were unclear and pretty much null and void. He tries to play it like a good guy but he is a bad guy. He should have embraced the bad side of the character because he isn’t a hero, nor a romantic character. Why it was played like a leading romantic gangster with a heart of gold is the biggest failure of the movie. If less time was spent swooning and sleeping with the women and more on gangstering, Scorsese would be applauding by now.
The LIVE BY NIGHT casting is huge and the billing for the movie was enough to guarantee my attendance. But cough COLLATERAL BEAUTY – casts do not maketh the movie. This was one of Affleck’s worst performances that was played monotonic without emotion or clear motive. It reads much better than it transfers. The thing is – he is a gangster and how do you make a supposed brutal gangster likeable? You could follow what Scorcese does IN EVERY GANGSTER MOVIE!!! In the book there is no explanation to the motive, in the movie Affleck added the part about returning from war and no longer following orders. But the thing is he works for a gangster for the majority of the movie. In a Scorcese movie his anger and retribution would have been horrendous but in this the cardboard cutout of Affleck walked around with little care.
And what was with Affleck’s oversized suits? They were so oversized I thought he was binge eating through post Batman V Superman blues but then he takes his jacket off and he looks fine! Fire that costume department, at times it was laughable.
THE LEADING LADIES:
The leading ladies steal the show in LIVE BY NIGHT. Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana are both equally impressive. The simple dance scene with Saldana was mesmerising and Miller was sensational, that last scene with her was so subtle and so powerful. JK claps the ladies!! Throws tomatoes at Ben.
THE REST OF THE CAST:
Elle Fanning’s Loretta Figgis was a pivotal character but I am sure in the book her character was much more fleshed out. Sadly we missed out on so much potential from her. And Chris Cooper as her father, and Police Chief was outstanding. But again we did’t get enough of him either, but his small scenes rivalled Affleck’s without much effort. Our two mob boss actors, Remo Girone and Robert Glenister were impressive and Brendon Gleeson as Coughlin’s father was a shining light as always. Chris Messina was mostly unrecognisable as Coughlin’s criminal partner, Dion Bartolo but again, another impressive performance.
LIVE BY NIGHT is a beautiful attempt at a gangster movie from Affleck but he was his own worst nightmare. The lead character was the biggest letdown and the book to screen interpretation was drowned by some poor story alterations and too many diversions. The movie needed to be about 20mins shorter with quite a few elements removed and a different lead actor. Sadly this is Affleck’s poorest directorial outing.
Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan.
** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.