Nothing Special Living in the Night

Movie Review for the new crime drama LIVE BY NIGHT, opening in theatres January 13th 2017.
Nothing Special Living in the Night

About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville nearly 20 years. Currently, he studies Journalism at Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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In the midst of Hollywood awards season, there is always a list of movies that go unnoticed because they disappoint the audiences expecting a quality movie. Live By Night, the new period crime drama from Ben Affleck, is 2016’s wannabe drama sensation that ends up dead in the water.

Affleck is wearing several hats, and you can tell he’s scrambling to get everything done. He’s the producer, director, the leading actor, and sole screenwriter. It’s obvious one person is doing everything, because nobody else is there to stop him whenever he gets carried away with his directorial choices.

He’s done the same list of jobs in other movies from the last few years with great success. 2010’s The Town was a box office hit, and 2012’s Argo was so good it won 3 Oscars, including Best Picture. What makes Live By Night different is it’s shallowness, and how desperate the filmmaker is to please.

The story begins in Boston in a war between the Irish and Italian mafias circa 1920, before bank robber Joe Coughlin (Affleck) is enlisted by both sides to oust the other. Coughlin then spends the majority of the film setting up his own prohibition business in Tampa, Florida, where the fight for the city’s underground swells.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Studios.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Studios.

It’s decently plotted, with sharp production design and visual style to spare. These elements, however, aren’t enough to cover up how bored most of the cast looks throughout the movie. Everyone speaks so carelessly, and frowns at nothing, drifting into space and wishing for more interesting lines.

The screenplay is responsible for most of the core problems, and is guilty of three major crimes. One, it’s far too long. The unnecessarily long exposition is particularly boring, and the whole movie can stand to lose a half hour with no consequences. Two, for an action crime story, there are so few action scenes – it’s people talking about “how exciting the action is” for two hours.

Worst of all, there’s a number of lines so cheesy the audience rolls their eyes instead of taking the story seriously. Some examples include “You don’t follow rules, you make your own,” “I left a soldier, and came back a criminal,” and “You really think you can run this town?” – the latter used several times.

Live By Night also boasts a stellar cast, whose acting of fear and concentration made these criminals so terrifying with great effectiveness. The women especially, like business women/lovers Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller and teen star turned preacher Elle Fanning are the most dynamic to watch, though it never meets the requirements to pass the Bechdel Test for promoting feminism in film.

I will confess, both my movie-going companion and I were occasionally romanced by the interesting plot. (The movie is based on the excellent source novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane). Both of us agreed the tones and style of the gangster action and speakeasy shenanigans were the best parts of the movie.

Despite some attractive qualities and usually reliable talent, Live By Night is ultimately an unoriginal, slow-paced movie. Minimal action and little tension makes it feel overly glamorous  at times and just boring at others. With so much great drama and thrillers still in theatres from Christmas, this is one night you can live without.

Live By Night
1 1/2 out of 4 stars.

14A, 129 minutes. History Crime Drama.
Written and Directed by Ben Affleck.
Starring Ben Affleck, Chris Messina, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, and Chris Cooper.
Now Playing at Cineplex Winston Churchill.

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