Live by Night

BY TONY FRAME

Ben Affleck directs and stars in this 1920s gangster flick, playing a Boston hood robbing banks, caught in the middle of two warring families. His plans to run off with a gangster’s moll is cut short in a double-cross and from there he ends up in Florida, starting from scratch, and making his way up the ladder once again. The story moves fast at times—too fast for that matter. The original cut ran for 3 hours and the studio cut it down to 2 hours 9 minutes. The result is a myriad of scenes where characters are used for soundbite dialogue and to fill in exposition to move the story on.

The film is full of good performances and Affleck displays some charisma in his role and that he’s got all the qualities of a good leading man. His cast choices were well made and there are some strong moments of drama in the film. And then there’s the but. Too many scenes were trimmed down for my liking. The relationship between Affleck’s character and his father (Brendan Gleeson) was one of the stronger elements in the story early on, but it wasn’t given the screen time it deserved. Affleck’s stint in prison really needed to be shown—at the very least it would have given us some deeper insight into his character’s psyche and how he would handle himself in such a dangerous environment. And the last ten minutes of the film were far too condensed that it felt rushed.  A story of this magnitude would have been better as a HBO six-episode special. That would have allowed it to draw out some of the character arcs, their stories, and the drama more where it needed it.

Ultimately, Live by Night falls below Affleck’s other directorial contributions; it’s not as high-octane as The Town, nor as tense as Argo, but this does show that he can handle period pieces on a grand scale. The gun-play was well choreographed and the plot wasn’t as predictable as I expected. I would hope that if Affleck directs another film of a similar scope that he would take a co-starring role to give himself more time to focus on the directing. I think with bigger projects like this he is probably spreading himself too thin. Then again, I think the 3 hour version would have rectified all I felt was wrong with it in the first place.

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