Movie Review: ‘LIVE BY NIGHT’, or you could sleep


Connor Bynum // Film Critic

Rated R, 128 minutes.
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben AffleckChris Messina, Elle Fanning, Brendan GleesonSienna MillerZoe Saldana and Chris Cooper

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.

Not even swanky suits can save Ben Affleck’s tired performance. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

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.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.