Ben Affleck has been one of my favorite directors of the decade thus far, crafting masterful films such as THE TOWN and the Academy Award-winning ARGO. The actor/director had an up-and-down 2016, making bank at the box office with two films he starred in, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and THE ACCOUNTANT, but struggling to find success critically (though I’d argue that THE ACCOUNTANT is the most underrated movie of last year). Unfortunately, at the tail end of 2016, Affleck was responsible for another film that fared poorly, this time as a star, writer, director, and co-producer.
LIVE BY NIGHT, unlike the high-earning films of 2016, didn’t find an audience. Made on a budget of $65 million, the film only saw $21 million in box office returns – all this in addition to the poor reception from critics. But did the film deserve a better fate?
Based on the novel by the great Dennis LeHane, LIVE BY NIGHT stars Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana & Chris Cooper, and follows Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a World War I veteran turned bootlegger turned notorious gangster turned charitable house-builder. The film is visually compelling, kudos to Robert Richardson for the stellar cinematography work, and it boasts great direction and performances across the board (Elle Fanning has been on fire for years and seldom gets the credit she deserves), though the story finds Affleck returning to familiar themes in less effective fashion.
That’s not to say LIVE BY NIGHT is a bad film, however. In comparison to THE TOWN, a film with similar themes, or revered mob movies such as THE GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS, LIVE BY NIGHT seems barely alive at all, but when compared to lesser mob films (i.e. GANGSTER SQUAD), this falls closer to the middle of the list than towards the bottom. It’s a mess, sure, often alternating between overly-ambitious and not ambitious enough, but it’s a compelling mess that boasts an interesting (if cliched) story, wonderful performances, and a filmmaker who hasn’t lost a step in many years.
If gangster films are your aesthetic, you’ll find a lot to love in LIVE BY NIGHT. Even those on the fence who could do without another familiar crime saga will find that LIVE BY NIGHT is better than the reputation that precedes it. Much better. Give it a chance.
LIVE BY NIGHT is now available to own on Digital HD and Blu-ray from Warner Bros. Studios