It’s very odd to have a Ben Affleck starred, Ben Affleck directed movie appear in January. I didn’t even realize that the man directed it until the final credits. Once I figured that out, it made sense to me why the movie seemed so well produced and shot.
Overall, Live By Night is a good movie despite the fact that it trips over itself quite a bit. I found myself really enjoying the story, but as I sat down to write this review, I realized in dismay that I started forgetting the series of events already. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen so many gangster movies already, and this movie does not add enough new things to be memorable.
Despite this, Ben Affleck does do a good job in his role. His character, while not special, was developed enough and made enough sense to where I understood his character and his inner conflict. Everyone else from Elle Fanning to Brendan Gleeson to Zoe Saldana all do well in their roles too.
The dialogue is also well above average and it was competent enough to not spell out the entire story for you, and it also complemented the characters rather well. The dialogue is not always spectacular, but it’s good for a vast majority of the time.
That being said, many of the lines in the beginning of the movie were hushed and hard to listen to. There were times where I felt a bit lost.
This movie gets pretty dark sometimes. With subject material like liquor running during prohibition, gang wars, and clashes with various shades of religious extremism, there were quite a few scenes that are admirably raw and uncomfortable.
Despite this, I still find myself fighting to remember the story. This might be because in this massive movie, there was no character dynamic, heroic, or constant enough to latch onto. There are also too many themes in this movie, and thus it is hard to pin down one centralized message.
Some of the messages in the movie also felt oddly contradictory. I have two examples of what I’m talking about, but it would spoil the movie.
So Affleck’s character is trying to make a casino, but he needs to get the laws changed in order to do so. However, Elle Fanning comes in as a this Godly prophet, preaching a message of moral consistency, and it’s aimed especially at this casino about to be built. Some of the dialogue in this film seems to especially paint Elle Fanning’s character, and the other religious folks as hypocritical at best and backwards at worst. Yet Affleck seems to really empathize with Fanning and decides not to do anything to harm her, thus harming his own chances at building his casino. Despite the fact that this is definitely within Affleck’s character do this, it felt like it was in conflict with the tone of the movie, and it all seemed confusing to me.
Another especially confusing part is when Affleck’s investor for the casino talks to him, and he says he’s going to pull the funding for his casino… and Affleck goes on a preachy tirade about how the white people are always pulling the rug from under the minorities, and that they are racist and taking away what’s due to them. The tone in that scene seems to paint Affleck’s speech as powerful and right, but it came across to me as total nonsense. Why in the world would you put a monologue about the racism of the era at a moment where Affleck is simply saying it because he’s mad that they won’t change the gambling laws in the country? If you’re want to try to make such a strong (and oddly contemporary…) message about racism, why give it to the white guy who’s only saying it because he didn’t get his way?
Some of the final bits of the film seemed awfully convenient too.
Live By Night is certainly well made, well acted, well shot, and oftentimes well-intentioned, but in the end there really isn’t too much about the movie that compels me to keep it in my head. What the movie needed was much more focus. Because it seemed to never be able to focus up, what could have been an exceptional film is instead just a good film that might be worth your money, but not much else.