Running time: 2 hours 9 minutes
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning, Remo Girone, Robert Glenister
Spoiler alert in effect.
Live By Night is definitely not Ben Affleck’s best film, reusing the formulaic gangster narrative and adding little in original material. That’s not to say it wasn’t an entertaining watch. It has plenty of action and suspense that will keep you invested for the duration of the film. It’s just that compared to his previous directorial attempts (Gone Baby Gone, Argo), he falls short here. I loved both of his previous films, forming part of my top film list. There was higher expectation this time round, and the premise itself seemed interesting, with a well-rounded cast and a lavish-looking setting. But sadly, it’ll fall into the pile of movies I’ll soon forget.
The film plays out in a typical gangster movie style. There’s several romantic interests, there’s booze, there’s violence, and there’s rival mob bosses. The film is riddled with predictable moments, although the ending still made me teary. It was bound to happen but for a few moments, I thought they might both get a chance to live into their old age (oh well). Other than that, the character and story arcs are pretty straightforward and typical.
In terms of the acting, I was impressed with Sienna Miller’s performance. I didn’t even recognise it was her until I looked up the cast list. She physically looks different and she puts on a convincing working-class Irish accent. She plays one of the more complex character, and seems to change loyalties and moods frequently. I was more disappointed with story arc for Zoe Saldana’s character Graciela. She starts out as this powerful and assertive woman in charge of running a business with her brother. However, she falls for Affleck’s character Joe, and ends up being the loyal housewife who sacrifices going back to her home country Cuba to support her husband. Then she dies for her husband’s mistakes. There was much more potential with her character and it’s sad to see that it’s been wasted.
There’s also a lot of religious undertones sprinkled throughout, in particular the last third of the film. This comes through Chief Figgis’ daughter Loretta (Elle Fanning) preaching and Affleck’s narration (which I thought was pretty ineffective). I wonder if this was the film’s attempt to surpass the usual standards of a gangster film, hoping to add a layer of complexity and a philosophical/moral spin to the violence and gangs. Personally, I found it confusing and to be honest, I just didn’t get it. So for me, it didn’t really add a whole to the film, and rather made it seem quite pompous in its attempt to add sophistication.
Overall, an average gangster-style film with nothing very original in the plot. It’ll keep you entertained, but it won’t live on in your memory. Go watch Affleck’s past films instead.
P.S. Did you spot Austin Swift (Taylor Swift’s brother?) He was the Mayweather guy standing next to Loretta while she talked with Joe in the white preaching tent.