Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Review: Live By Night

Live By Night
Cert: 15 / 129 mins / Dir. Ben Affleck / Trailer

Well, if Brad Pitt played with unabashed glee recently in his Casablanca-themed sandpit, Live By Night is very much Ben Affleck's Godfather fan-film. Adapted from Dennis Lehane's 2012 novel, our Ben directs and screen-writes and stars*1 in the tale of self-made gangster Joe Coughlin, rum-running in prohibition-era America while somehow managing to keep his hands clean.

It's not bad, but given the films which clearly influenced it, it's certainly not great and feels like Affleck couldn't decide what sort of movie he wanted to make. The script is fairly mechanical, with exposition in every other sentence as a four-hour story is squeezed into a two-hour film, and characters are killed off-screen with a single perfunctory line. The hero's wily, moustache-twirling nemesis is set up in the first twenty minutes then seemingly forgotten about until the last ten, and as much as the story rushes through its fifteen-or-so years (with minimal ageing to the principal cast, obviously, and with the heavy-handed assistance of Coughlin's sporadic narration), it still finds time to slot in some quite astonishing sermonising*2.

When he's not trying to channel Gene Kelly in modelling a wide selection of jauntily-angled hats, Affleck struggles with his character's Boston accent*3, almost as much as any Irish character that's not being played by an Irish actor struggles with theirs.

But perhaps the film's biggest problem is that the pacing's all over the shop. Affleck's great at directing the action sequences, but fails to bring any real dynamism to the dialogue-led scenes (of which there are many). With more patience and focus, this could have been a contender for the all-time great gangster-flicks. The ingredients are all there but the chef lacks the discipline to cook them properly.

The lengthy gunfire sequences are pretty neat, though (and with some fantastic head-shots).

In the January no-man's land between awards-bait and popcorn-fodder, Live By Night should be a lean, visceral yet extravagant drama; instead it's just period-detailed padding.

Enough messing about now, Affleck. Where the fuck is Batman?

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well Ben would have you believe Scarface and The Godfather, but I think the film actually has more in common with American Pastoral. And not just because of the presence of Elle Fanning, a performer who manages to ride right through the centre of the Uncanny Valley without even being CGI…

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Why not? It'll save you going out to buy it on DVD then going out again to drop it off at the charity-shop when you've watched it once.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Create a non-demanding buffer film while we all wait impatiently for Batman?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is not.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I will not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is not.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: That Brendan Gleeson's in this, and he was in that Calvary alongside his boy, Domhnall 'Hux' Gleeson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Which, let's face it, is a level of involvement that's rarely a good sign for any project.

*2 Because our hero may be a smug, opportunistic, lying, treacherous murderer with commitment and authority-issues, but at least he's not a racist. I'm not kidding, this is literally Act III of the film.

*3 Well I say 'struggles', it's more 'forgets about until he says a word like "bar" or "walk", at which point he's all over it like Peter Griffin'.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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