Review: Live By Night
I ended last week watching Citizen Kane and started this week watching this film. What was interesting to see was that the screening for Citizen Kane was practically sold out while this one was almost empty.
So was this a terrible experience that deserved an empty room? I have to say no, it is a very enjoyable gangster story with a lot going for it. It’s just that it lacks in some departments that stops it from entering 10 out of 10 territory.
It would be unfair to compare Live By Night to Godfather or Goodfellas but it seems that Ben Affleck’s story of an Irish gangster taking over a rum operation in Prohibition era Florida feels like it is going for a grand epic tale.
What stops it short is a feeling that the running time doesn’t quite reflect the story. One of the people watching with me said that “The Godfather is overrated because nothing happens for about 70 minutes and then all the action comes at the end.”
This to me is daft and sadly it explains why studios get nervous and we get films like this. The best gangster (and I would argue Westerns as well) stories tend to have buildup and atmosphere. We rattle through quite a lot of story and a lot of the holes are filled in by a Ben Affleck voiceover that could have been swapped for more scenes that show us the horrors of the First World War that led to our hero becoming disillusioned with the war.
That being said this doesn’t make Live By Night bad. Getting away from the classics Road To Perdition is a roughly equivalent example. We have a noble minded protagonist who crosses the line and you get a similar sense of a person doing what they have to do in difficult circumstances, so we never quite lose sympathy with them.
What gives Live By Night more of a sense of identity is the choice of supporting players. Chris Cooper as a morally conflicted police chief, Elle Fanning as a born again Christian and Brendan Gleeson as Affleck’s police chief father all add more emotional substance to what would otherwise be a solid and watchable crime yarn.
Another aspect that I was impressed with was the way the society was depicted. It showed how corruption can work and the way deals were done that felt real. There were also pointed comments on race relations and the nature of capitalism and protected interests that added contemporary weight on top.
Another person I watched with said the book the film is based on is better. While I don’t doubt this is true for me personally I feel Live By Night does not deserved to be sidelined. There will undoubtedly be better things to come this year but for me personally I enjoyed it and would recommend giving it a go.