I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
After surprising nearly everyone in the movie going community with his skills as a director in 2007’s GONE BABY GONE, Ben Affleck has quickly become one of the most respected filmmakers of the last 10 years. With three stellar films under his belt, audiences have greatly anticipated his next outing in the director’s chair. Unfortunately, not even the Caped Crusader himself can save LIVE BY NIGHT from its long list of gangster movie clichés and a very slow first half.
In addition to writing and directing, Affleck also stars as the film’s protagonist, Joe Coughlin. A World War I veteran tired of taking orders, Coughlin quickly gets noticed by Irish mobster, Albert White (Robert Glenister). Before long Coughlin is caught in an affair with White’s girlfriend Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), only to be saved from certain death by his father Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson), who happens to be a police officer. Joe then vows to rise to the top in the world of organized crime, bootlegging, and gambling in hopes to one day overthrow White once and for all. Needless to say, the plot in LIVE BY NIGHT is not the easiest to follow.
A common fault usually found in films toting an all-star cast is that too many characters are often left with too little to work with. Zoe Saldana (STAR TREK BEYOND) brandishes a charming hispanic accent as the main love interest Graciela, but never truly gets the chance to shine. Elle Fanning (20TH CENTURY WOMEN) plays aspiring actress turned religious zealot Loretta Figgis and is arguably the most interesting character in the film, which is why it’s such a shame that she gets so little screen time. Chris Cooper does a perfectly fine job portraying Loretta’s overly protective conservative father, but honestly, Cooper could play this role in his sleep.
The most memorable of the numerous antagonists in the film takes the form of textbook racist bumpkin RD Pruitt (Matthew Maher). The film attempts to use characters like Pruitt to make itself relevant with present day issues such as race relations, religious dogma, and bigoted intolerance. Yet Pruitt never becomes anything more than a mere caricature of a stereotypical redneck, contributing virtually nothing to an already divisive cultural conversation.
However, it’s not without some saving graces such as Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography. Fresh off of his breathtaking work in THE HATEFUL EIGHT, Robert Richardson beautifully captures vast landscapes of the American wetlands as well as fierce gun battles made even more thrilling by superb sound design. The action set pieces are mostly enjoyable, with the rare occasion of some confusing editing choices. The film’s climactic shootout is entertaining enough, but doesn’t really do much that other films haven’t already done outside of two or three legitimately awesome moments.
LIVE BY NIGHT is definitely the weakest entry of Ben Affleck’s directing career. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but when overshadowed by his truly outstanding directorial efforts, audiences will likely go home frustrated that the fuse simply takes too long to burn up to a merely passable explosive finale.
LIVE BY NIGHT opens on Friday.