Movie Review: ‘Live By Night’

Director: Ben Affleck

Cast: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Chris Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Brendan Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Chris Messina

Plot: An Irish Boston criminal, John Coughlin, runs a stick-up gang but refuses to participate in gangster business during the Prohibition Era. His love affair the girlfriend of an Irish mob boss does eventually drag him into the business and he begins a slow take over of the rum production in Tampa, Florida.


Review: At first everything seems swell. Affleck is returning to The Town with a period flavour and working both in front of and behind the camera. We get a good set-up, we spend quite a bit of time getting introduced to the characters and the politics and the action heats up with a high impact, visceral car chase. Then…the movie starts again. The setting shifts from Boston to Florida and we have to start from scratch, getting introduced to a new set of characters and politics. It’s a hard reset and it takes a bit of work to keep track of it all.

This is the beginning of the plotting problems that hang over Affleck’s attempted crime epic. We have a huge cast of great actors and all of them sit on the sidelines and exist only to service Affleck’s character arc. We have questions about what is happening with these characters but their story always happens off screen. Whilst individual scenes may be effective the parts are greater than the whole and there’s never a sense of tension built through the story.


Live By Night has some serious story problems, but as we said the parts are greater than the whole. You’d be hard pressed to find fault with the performances, even though some aren’t given enough screen time to tell their story, such as Chris Cooper. The biggest stand out is Ella Fanning as a young girl who gets swept up in the world of vice (off screen, of course) and becomes a crusader of the born-again movement. She’s a compelling character and has a strong screen presence, really shining during some monologues delivered in close up shots. 


The film also looks fantastic. The detail to the design of the era is a strong point, creating an immersive world for the characters to duel in. Affleck seems to developed a particular fondness for long, sweeping shots of the water tinged with pastel colour schemes. It’s nice to look at, is what we’re saying.

If you want an old school gangster movie, it’s decent. There’s plenty to recommend even if you end up checking your watch a couple of times towards the end. It drags after the final shoot out.

Rating: SIX out of TEN