Hot Take: Proof positive looks can be deceiving. So bad I had to double check the initial release date to see if this wasn’t a January release.
I am not a Ben Affleck hater. However, for those that are, Live By Night will offer enough fuel to burn down Gotham before he dodges one more question about his stand-alone Batman movie coming in a couple of years. The only two things Live By Night has going for it is that it is so entertainingly bad at times it becomes entertaining and the film is visually engaging which is a hat tip to Affleck, the director.
Despite his directing success, Affleck, the actor, doesn’t do himself any favors. And maybe it isn’t Affleck the actor’s fault since he wasn’t given much to work with from Affleck, the screenwriter. The clunky script featuring a simple one-dimensional plot has almost no redeeming qualities. There’s a plethora of talent attached to the film — Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Zoë Saldana, Anthony Michael Hall, Max Casella — but the resulting product is watchably bad.
At some point in between moments of unintentional laughter, I found myself Googling the release date of the film swearing a studio wouldn’t waste the Academy’s time by putting this on the December calendar as Live By Night felt comfortably at home on the January calendar where movie releases go to die. Alas, the film had a limited release in December as I guess it hoped the Academy was so drunk when they collectively watched it that it somehow snuck in a nomination.
The typical built-in audience for gangster flicks might find a few redeeming qualities in the film. There’s an entertaining chase scene here and a well shot shoot-out there. It’s confusing though as Joe Coughlin (Affleck) waffles back and forth between morality and immorality with a code so convoluted, if you actually did care about the character, you might wonder why he can’t make up his mind about what kind of man he wants to be. It’s doubtful you’ll care that much, though, as the film jumps from Boston to Tampa and follows Joe as he ditches his moral code and ascends toward the top of his adopted Mob family. Well, until all the double and triple crossing begins, of course. You know how typical gangster films go and this one decides to play up those conventions whenever it has the chance.
The resulting product is disastrous. If you’re anti-Affleck, Live By Night will have you cringing from the title screen to the credits. Thankfully, the visuals and the entertainingly bad script provide enough watchable moments for Live By Night to escape the “worst of” lists of 2016 but find itself firmly on the “bad films” of 2016.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Max Casella Lives!
Those who’ve followed Neil Patrick Harris’s career back to when he was Doogie Howser, M.D. should recognize the name as Casella was Harris’s wisecracking best friend Vinny during the show’s run. Granted, he’s done 24 movies since the show (including the next film expected to be reviewed, Jackie)but I’m struggling to say something good about this film so I figured this would be a good time to recognize his performance as Digger, the son of the mob boss Affleck’s Joe Coughlin goes to work for.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- A Rough Script
It’s not just the paint-by-numbers storyline. It’s also the weak dialogue, poor character development and cliché approach to the Mob world that helps deliver a subpar cinema experience.
- Longer Than Necessary
The film comes in at just over 2 hours but could have easily accomplished the same result in 30 minutes less. Hell, it might have been better. Worst case scenario would have been it was shorter.
- Too Pretty
Typically, the gangster world has some grit to it. Not the world portrayed in Live By Night which is filled with pretty faces, stylish suits and lush scenery. It looks good but doesn’t fit the subject.