For his fourth film in the director’s chair, Ben Affleck again turns to the work of Boston crime author Dennis Lehane, this time for Live by Night. Back in 2007, Affleck made his directorial debut by adapting Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone for the big screen. It was a high point in both of their careers. While Live by Night has plenty of visual style–it was lensed by Quentin Tarantino regular Robert Richardson–it lacks the originality and sense of urgency that highlight his previous efforts, The Town and Argo.
Live by Night tracks the rise of Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a rather low-level mobster in Boston, during 1920’s era prohibition. A World War l veteran, a disillusioned Joe takes up a life of petty crime, robbing people and places at gunpoint. These activities attract the attention of Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister) and Italian mafia kingpin Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone). Joe is protected by his police captain father, Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), who harbors no illusions about what his son is. However, Joe has fallen deeply in love with Albert White’s girlfriend Emma (Sienna Miller). After ripping off a few poker games, he decides to to rob a bank and run off with Emma. Unfortunately, Albert gets wind of the plan, and nearly kills him.
Coughlin ends up working for Pescatore, who sends him to Florida to establish a foothold in Tampa. As a bonus, Joe gets to cut into Albert White’s business. He’s soon building his own empire in Ybor City, where he’s taken over the rum trade. In doing so, Joe falls in love with with Cuban Graciella Corrales (Zoe Saldana) but his affair with a dark-skinned woman earns him the ire of the KKK. Local lawman Chief Figgis (Chris Cooper) let’s Joe do whatever he needs to do, as long as he stays within certain geographical limits. As luck would have it, Chief Figgis’ daughter (Elle Fanning) ends up becoming a central figure in Joe’s efforts to open a casino as prohibition ends.
Like the classic gangster films, Live by Night initially glamorizes the mob lifestyle, only to expose its dark underbelly. What’s left is a scathing indictment of racism, greed, and corruption. While Affleck’s aims are commendable, the problem is in the construction. The pacing is uneven; some scenes go on far too long, while others are underdeveloped. The result is an inability to become truly immersed in Coughlin’s world, or care much about any of the people who inhabit it. It just doesn’t feel real. If that’s the case, there isn’t much for the audience to care about.
As an actor, Ben Affleck is a reassuring presence. He looks great in the period clothing, and has charisma to spare. His performance is strong, allowing a sizable supporting cast to feed off his lead. Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, and Chris Messina, have their moments, but the standout performances are from Chris Cooper (isn’t he always good?) as the beleaguered Chief Figgis and Brendan Gleeson as the pragmatic Thomas Coughlin.
Live by Night has a wonderful set of characters. Unfortunately, the scenes aren’t woven together in a manner that effectively uses them all. Working as the writer/producer/director/ and star of this film, Ben Affleck wore many hats, and one has to wonder if the final product would have been better, had he sacrificed even one.
Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Live by Night looks superb in 1080p. Clarity and detail is fantastic throughout. The image is sharp in both day and night settings. The whole thing has a nice three-dimensional look, and a nice sense of movement. Black levels are appropriately deep, never taking away from the sense of detail. Purposely, the film has a rather dreary appearance. However, whites, golds, etc.., stand out when called upon. Skin tones look realistic throughout. Facial details are particularly impressive in medium shots. Noise or artifacts aren’t an issue here.
The film’s Dolby Atmos soundtrack is very impressive. All the channels are used to positive effect, filling the entire soundstage. Music is expertly delineated, allowing for atmospherics and dialogue to always be heard. Given the active nature if the film, the soundtrack is an involving one, from start to finish. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.
English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Writer / Director / Producer / Actor Ben Affleck, Director of Photography Robert Richardson and Production Designer Jess Gonchor: In this running, screen-specific commentary, all three sit together and discuss the source novel, the process of adapting it for the screen, the characters, the filming, the cast, and more.
- Angels with Dirty Faces (HD, 8:54) Ben Affleck, author Dennis Lehane, and actors Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, and Elle Fanning offer some thoughts about the film’s female characters, and the actors performances.
- The Men of Live by Night (HD, 8:30) Ben Affleck, and actors Chris Cooper, Remo Girone, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, and Robert Glenister dloffer some thoughts about the film’s male characters, and the actor’s performances.
- Live by Night’s Prolific Author (HD, 6:53) A brief overview of Dennis Lehane’s career and work, with comments from Ben Affleck, Lehane himself, Chris Messina, producer Jennifer Todd, and Jennifer Davisson.
- Close-Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase (HD, 7:35) In this discussion of one particular scene in the film, we hear from Ben Affleck, Dennis Lehane, stunt coordinator Ra Rondell, director of photography Robert Richardson, composer Harry Gregson-Williams, and editor William Goldenberg.
- Deleted Scenes (15:56) Five in total. You can view the scenes with or without commentary from Ben Affleck.