Last year was a big year for Ben Affleck as an actor, donning the Batman suit for Batman v Superman, and starring in action-thriller The Accountant. Now, however, he's stepping behind the camera for his crime-thriller/passion project Live By Night which he wrote, directed AND starred in.

It's the 1920's, and it's the Prohibition era, but this has only given birth to a new outburst of crime and gangsters and alcohol and violence are still very much flowing. It's a big business for the gangsters of the underworld. Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck), the son of the Boston Police superintendent Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), has traded in his proper upbringing for a life of theft, violence, and power, as an outlaw. But, in time where gangsters and crime are at a high, where no-one can be trusted, this is a life that comes with a cost. A life not for the kind-hearted of men. And one that will really put Joe to the test.

I am a big fan of Ben Affleck, as both an actor and a director. However, especially when working as the latter, he has proven he knows what he's doing. From the likes of Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo, he has shown that he knows how to make a damn good film. And write a damn good one too. Live By Night is a film that Affleck has wanted to do for a while, and with such a stylish, flashy premise about crime and gangsters, this fell right into his ballpark. For that reason alone, I was anticipated for it. However, Live By Night is certainly nowhere near as good as some of Ben's other directorial pieces. This is perhaps his weakest film yet; but, it's by no means a bad film. Far from it even. For starters, Live By Night is incredibly well-directed; the action sequences are remarkably helmed, so visceral and enthralling, and this is a gorgeous looking film too - it's beautifully shot and very stylish and flashy. The writing is sharp too, with the rich, punchy dialogue we'd expect from a Ben Affleck directed, and written, picture.

The first act of Live By Night is incredible. It's action-packed, compelling and stylish and everything we wanted from this fall. However, where it falls short though is in its second act and, particularly, it's storytelling. The film just lacks the oomph and the richness of the likes of The Town or Argo. Frankly, it's just quite boring. As engaging and promising as the first act is, the film just grinds to a halt in the second act. As great a writer as Affleck normally is, the narrative here is just so convoluted and messy; there are so many characters and so many subplots crammed in here that there's never enough time to fully develop and explore each one, meaning most end up being underdeveloped and underwhelming instead. And this is supposed to be a character drama but the characters themselves lack much compelling edge and feel very lacklustre and one-dimensional. The film tries hard to be emotionally impactful but fails in doing so, seeing as we struggle to invest in any of our protagonists.


The acting is pretty decent, though. Live By Night has a cast stacked with talent, from Ben Affleck to Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Elle FanningBrendan Gleeson, and Chris Cooper. The performances are pretty solid, overall. Miller and Gleeson certainly feel a little underused but they're great when they're on-screen, and Cooper and Fanning are excellent, given the emotional gravitas of their roles. Affleck is a good actor and turns in a good performance here, but you can't help but feel he's a little miscast. He has a big physique, for Batman, of course, and looks a little out of place in all the suits and the 90's setting. As far as the 1926 setting goes, Live By Night excels in its set design and costumes and its production. As I said before, Affleck is a great director and he has conceived a very convincing 1926 aesthetic for the film. This very much so works as a period piece; from the cars to the guns to the buildings and the costumes too, there's an impressive attention to detail.

Live By Night certainly isn't Ben Affleck's finest hour as a director, but that's not to say it's not good. It has some storytelling and pacing issues but is gorgeously-shot, astutely-directed and pretty entertaining throughout. The film's final act is incredible. There is a hotel sequence which feels like it belongs in a classic, old-school gangster shooter - which is of high-commend. It's violent, stylish, real and just so entertaining to watch. It feels as though the film has several different endings, though, and it's all tied up a little poorly as a result, but it still doesn't take away from the fact that there's plenty of enjoyment to be had from Live By Night, as a competent and disposable gangster flick for a rainy day. Saying that, for Ben Affleck's worst film, it's still pretty good. Which shows how good of a director he is.


VERDICT:

Live By Night isn't Ben Affleck's finest hour, bogged down with some storytelling and pacing issues, but it's still a solid, entertainingly disposable crime drama nonetheless.




About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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