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Live by Night Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Affleck’s newest movie is a love letter to old-school gangster flicks, with a remarkable cast, beautiful pictures and a thrilling story that was executed all right.

Genre: Action / Crime / Drama / Romance

Director: Ben Affleck

Cast: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Chris Messina, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Remo Girone, Robert Glenister, Chris Cooper, Max Casella, Miguel & Titus Welliver.

Run Time: 129 min.

US Release: 25 December 2016

UK Release: 13 January 2017

German Release: 02 February 2017

Ben Affleck returns as director in this thrilling 20’s gangster drama that stars quite a few big names. I was really looking forward to seeing this movie but was somewhat worried because I read a few of the reviews that came out, which were less than flattering. Having built my own opinion after watching it on Thursday, I couldn’t disagree with the critics more! Live by Night might not be Affleck’s best directorial work, in fact, it is his weakest but it was still a damn good movie, with a few flaws here and there and I, for the most part, enjoyed the hell out of this film!

I am a sucker for old-school gangster flicks and have quite a few in my blu-ray collection, such as The Godfather trilogy, Chinatown, Once Upon a Time in America and others. I love the flair, the violence and of course the era it usually plays in. There haven’t been a lot of these movies around in the last few years, while those that did come hadn’t been exactly a shining light of the genre; e.g. Gangster Squad or Public Enemies. So when I heard that Affleck was not only directing but also starring and producing this gangster drama, I was counting down the days until the movie’s release date in Germany.

The plot revolves around Joe Coughlin (Affleck), who introduces himself by reciting how his path as a mafia boss started. After having fought in World War I Joe decided to stop living by the rules and became a small-time crook, robbing backrooms where illegal gambling was going on and starting an affair with Emma (Miller), girlfriend to the feared Irish mobster boss Albert White (Glenister). When a bank robbery goes wrong and his affair with Emma gets public, Joe is left with no choice but to take the job offer by Maso Pescatore (Girone), the godfather of the rivalling Italian mafia. Joe is sent off to Florida where he is supposed to build a liquor empire for Maso, but his past seems to be catching up with him.

While the story segment is the weakest aspect of the movie, the plot's theme hooked me and sparked my interest in Live by Night. I’ll be the first to admit that it is a little hard to immerse into the film at first since the story jumps back and forth to different scenarios, but once it kicks off and focuses on Joe’s criminal life from the beginning the plot becomes increasingly interesting. One big problem this flick has is that it is a very slow-paced movie, not intentionally but because some of the elements did not mesh well together.

One of the reasons why I found myself emotionally attached to this movie is that the plot construct reminded me a little bit of the video game Mafia, which I played for ours as a teenager. I was obsessed with the game’s story as well as its outcome, and Live by Night reminded me quite a bit of it. The dialogues were well constructed and gave the dramatic sections more weight, while also balancing out the drama with humour at times.

There are a variety of different personas that come and go, some serve to tell a subplot the others simple side characters. While all these different people did help flesh out the story, I couldn’t help but notice that in the end there was an overabundance of characters that were part of the cause for the slow pacing. Ben Affleck did not only do an excellent job as a director but he was also great as the lead actor. The only issue I had, was that even though he was of Irish descent he did not have an accent. He had brilliant chemistry with his two love interests Sienna Miller, who played Irish gangster broad Emma Gould, and Zoe Saldana who portrayed Graciela Corrales, the sister of a Cuban businessman. Both of them gave fantastic performances and their relationship with Joe felt real.

Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning played Chief Irving Figgis and his daughter Loretta Figgis respectively. Their side story was one of the better ones and had somewhat of a direct effect on the main plot’s outcome. Elle Fanning gave a jaw-dropping performance of a broken young girl, who preached and swayed the local’s opinion of Joe Coughlin. Her father, on the other hand, is a respected police chief in Tampa, Florida. Both Cooper and Fanning gave some of the better performances in this gangster flick and added tension to the story.

I didn’t recognise Chris Messina when he appeared on screen as Dion, he fully emerged into the character and just like many in this, had fantastic chemistry with Affleck. Brendan Gleeson played chief inspector Thomas Coughlin, Joe’s father. He gave a terrific performance even though he had limited screen time and was one of the most memorable characters.

This is a beautiful-looking gangster flick that made use of two different desaturated colour palettes for the two segments of the story. The first part playing in Boston has a metallic blue tone, while the segments playing in Miami were metallic bronzed and both gave the movie a dated look, which suited the era it played in. Affleck also made use of beautiful long shots that rotated around a whole scene and gave a better understanding of the surroundings, as well as including excellent shots of the big action shoot-out at the end. Overall, this film had gorgeous aesthetics and a perfect costume design.


Verdict: While Live by Night is possibly Affleck’s weakest directorial work, it is still one of the better pictures I saw early this year. It doesn’t reach the greatness of Argo or The Town but it still has a gripping story and fantastic performances by the whole cast. The plot is the film’s weakest part and the first 5-10 minutes were hard to get into, while the ending drags on a little and makes the movie feel longer than it is, but the topic is intriguing and the narrative has enough intensity. The cast was phenomenal; everyone gave their best and had fantastic chemistry with one another, which made their relationships believable. Ben Affleck gave a fantastic performance, conveying his character with the right amount of depth and rounding him off well. The cinematography is hauntingly beautiful and set the tone of the era, while the costume design complimented the camera work. I can only recommend this movie, especially to those fans of gangster flicks, because it is worth watching! I am going to give Live by Night an 8.0 out of 10.

Thank you as always for reading, leave a comment below if you want to give your own opinion to Live by Night, & if you enjoyed reading this don’t forget to like & subscribe. Also, be aware that my next reviews will be for Split and Monster Trucks.


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