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Live By Night Movie Review

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We might be in an age where everyone only cares about Batman, but Ben Affleck did take one for himself before 2016 was over with Live by Night. I started to feel sorry for him. He’s a great director, but while he was making his promotional runs for this movie, all he was asked about was Batman. One of the biggest news stories right now is that he’s not 100% sure whether or not he will be behind the camera for DC’s standalone Batman film. Well, he has a movie coming out this Friday, and Batman isn’t in it! He’s not even mentioned! Anyways, let’s talk about Live by Night!

Live by Night is directed by Ben Affleck and stars Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, Chris Messina, and Brendan Gleeson. We all know that Prohibition wasn’t stopping anybody, but Joe Coughlin, played by Ben Affleck, still isn’t just anybody. He has turned against the law despite being the son of the Boston Police superintendent, and the money and power has become the most important thing in the world. If he can navigate through the Florida underground and past the most powerful mob boss on the East Coast, he will have everything he has ever dreamed of.

This is, in my opinion, Ben Affleck’s worst movie, so it’s going to be tough to hide the little bit of disappointment that I have. I’m not crushed that this isn’t a great movie, and it’s definitely not the most disappointing film of the year, but after Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo, I would think many people go into a Ben Affleck directed film expecting stylistic and storytelling brilliance. Live by Night fell far short of that, but it did have some positives, so let’s go over those first. The first act of this movie is actually very good. It’s not perfect, and I still don’t think it’s on the level of something like The Town when it comes to thrilling crime scenes, but it has some great moments and is a step in the right direction toward building these characters. I think that Ben Affleck’s character and Sienna Miller’s character have excellent introductions, and I was hooked enough by their relationship to be invested in the first act of the film. I was also interested in what was happening in Coughlin’s life at the time with his turn against the law, his perspective on life, and his rivalry with one of the biggest mob bosses on the East Coast. From a writing perspective, there was a point where every line made me nod my head happily because I was becoming more and more interested in Coughlin’s life philosophies and arc. Also, even past the first act, this movie is very good looking, and it’s a great film from a technical perspective. Everything is composed nicely and looks great with that signature Ben Affleck color design and his bold stylistic decisions. Live by Night shouldn’t make anyone scared of Ben Affleck with a camera and decision making power. In fact, it should maintain confidence in what he can do. I also have to mention Chris Messina in this film. I don’t watch The Mindy Project despite having heard great things about it, so I’m mostly familiar with his smaller roles where he doesn’t shine much. He shines in this movie. He might have been the best character in the film, and his on-screen presence and delivery was by far the best thing after the first act. Finally, if you lost hope through the second act of the film, there is an amazing action sequence toward the end of the film that is pure, classic Ben Affleck direction. It’s an incredible and visceral scene, and it should have been the high note taking us into the credits.

Like I mentioned, Live by Night, I think, is the worst film of Ben Affleck’s directorial career. I was hooked for the first act, but after that, the movie dropped dead. This is the first time I’ve had serious pacing issues with Ben Affleck’s direction, but I can’t stress enough how flat just about everything following an act-closing elevator scene is. I completely stopped caring, the characters stopped progressing, the story became less interesting, Ben Affleck’s philosophies became flat as a pancake, and his new ideas weren’t creative or fascinating anymore. The movie comes to a complete standstill until the very end. As I mentioned, in the final fifteen minutes of the film, we get a great action sequence that, again, proves Affleck can direct action and pull thrills out of a scene, but between the first act and this action scene, the narrative flatlines. I don’t want to make any assumptions, but my best guess would be that Affleck has a lot going on outside of this movie. Maybe everything happening in the DCEU wore him down to the point where he couldn’t give Live by Night his complete focus, because this movie feels unfocused. There is a character introduced at the beginning of the second act of the film who is ridiculously annoying and over-the-top. The minute he is on-screen, it’s easy to tell where his arc is going to go, and I just had to hope that by time we moved past him I could reinvest myself in the story, but it still didn’t pick up. I guess that if I had to pick one thing that disappointed me about Live by Night, it would be the pacing. The first act is great, but after that, I never reconnected or reinvested, and it becomes an unfocused and drawn out misstep for Affleck.

Overall, Live by Night is, in my opinion, by far the worst film of Ben Affleck’s directorial career. It has some shining moments that show that Affleck can pull out the beauty and thrills of a great action sequence and good dialogue, but the pacing problems far outweigh it. I actually own the three other films that Ben Affleck has directed on Blu-ray, and The Town is a movie I go back to relatively often. I can’t see myself going back to Live by Night because after the first act, I simply stopped caring. Actually, maybe I could rewatch Live by Night along with The Accountant and Batman v. Superman in a triple feature where I’m solely watching to count Affleck’s on-screen kills. I’m telling you, the number has to be high. I hope I never meet up with Affleck while he’s in character because I don’t think I’d last long. Back to the movie, Live by Night is Affleck’s most dull and least fascinating film. I’m going to give Live by Night a 5.5/10.

Forty-five minutes in, this movie was an 8/10, so if you’re a Ben Affleck fan, you’re probably not losing out by giving this movie a look. I know that The Accountant didn’t get great reviews, but I actually really liked it, and if you need your Ben Affleck fix, I’d suggest getting it with The Accountant. What will you be seeing this weekend? There are plenty of movies out right now with awards season upon us, so be sure to check out all of the latest reviews to find out which ones you need to be buying tickets for by clicking right HERE! As always, thank you, and keep listening to 88.7 The Pulse!

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Justin Lyons

Hey, it's Justin Lyons! I am the Chief Film Critic for The Pulse. Have any questions for me? Please feel free to email me at [email protected]