HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Live by Night
HTS Overall Score:88
Ben Affleck has been one of my favorite actors and directors of the last decade. He nearly tanked his career as a young actor, but rose out of the fires of disgrace like a phoenix, rising to new heights once he found his calling behind the camera (and after some personal maturity as well). This is his 4th feature film as a director (and also actor of his own direction) and “Live by Night” also pulls from the same writing base that produced “Gone Baby Gone”. Pulling from a novel of the same title from author Dennis Lahane (who also wrote the novel “Gone Baby Gone”), we have another gangster flick with Affleck helming the project. Aiming for the same dramatic tales as told to us by Coppola, Scorsese and the like, “Live by Night” just can’t seem to gain any real traction (despite being impeccably stylish).
Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, the son of an Irish cop in Boston who gets mixed up with the local crime bosses daughter. When their love affair is found out, things get a little heated the girl turns him over to her father, Mobster Albert White (Robert Glenister) and the resulting scuffle ends up with her dead and Joe In the hospital. Waking up from his injuries, Joe is furious at the way things turned out, and despite being a fairly good kid he decides to hire himself out to the local Italian mob boss (Remo Girone) in hopes of getting revenge on Albert White and his crew. However, the young man soon turns revenge into a profitable business for the Italians, as he moves to their Miami location and starts rum running with the best of them thanks to the help of the Cubans. He even falls in love with and marries one of their (Zoe Saldana).
However, Joe is still the “good” guy at heart. No matter how deep he has gone into the criminal underworld there is a part of him that longs for the better side of life. The softer side. This means he ends up being a bit softer on some people than your normal gangster (even though he wipes the walls with the local KKK and other criminal underbelly). This soft streak is what drew his wife, Graciela, to him. But it is also the same streak that very well may be his undoing as a Joe is living in the a corrupt world. Cops, judges, thugs, rednecks, and mob bosses all stand in his way, but only Joe knows how much corruption he can take before being overwhelmed by it.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=93714[/img]Affleck certainly did a number with “Live by Night”. The attention to detail in the Florida gangster scene is top notch. Not to mention the cinematography. The entire thing feels like it’s from a bygone era and Affleck does that with ease. The opening heist with Joe and his two buddies is impeccably shot and the end battle at the Pescatore stronghold is one of the best parts of the movie (watch the scene where Joe’s second in command uses a Tommy Gun on a falling Italian mobster down the center of the staircase. I had to rewind and watch that scene twice it was so well shot). Everything just looks and FEEL like an old-time gangster move. So why did the movie have such a hard time getting off the ground? I can’t put my finger on it completely, but I have to say that it’s because there didn’t seem to be much dramatic focus on Joe. He’s the center of the story and Affleck plays the kid well enough, but there doesn’t seem to be enough structural binding elements around his character. You don’t feel the same pulls as you do with Al Pacino’s Tony, or DeNiro in “Goodfellas”. It’s this sense of complacency and awkward stringing together of vignettes that keeps the wheels from every truly gaining traction.
There’s some fun parts to the movie, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Affleck’s general performance and he and Saldana actually made quite the couple. The same can be said for the action pieces. Affleck really knows how to string together his action scenes and while it’s not going to rival the battle at the end of “The Town”, the finale between Joe and the Pescatore clan is well worth the watch.
Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=93722[/img]“Live by Night” was shot by famed cinematographer Robert Richardson with the Arri Alexa 65 camera system, and the results are nothing less than spectacular. Richardson’s masterful hand behind the camera shows, as he uses lighting and staging to create an impressive period piece feel. There is a distinct use of a yellow and green lens filter to give us that slightly “aged” look to the picture (especially when dealing with the gangster bosses), and there is a nice textured “filmic” look to the imagery. Fine detailing is never anything less than perfect as you can see intimate clothing details such as fibers on Affleck’s cream colored suit, or the individual gains of sand on the Miami Beach. Watch the water flex and shimmer under the weight of gravity and see the dust spurt up from the ground as tommy gun fire blasts clods into the air. Blacks remain deep and inky throughout, and even with the yellowed color grading there seems to be no signs of washed out levels or crushing going on.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=93730[/img]Warner is good with the Atmos tracks, but there is a strange audio setup here on “Live by Night”. We have an incredible sounding Dolby Atmos track to enjoy (with a 7.1 TrueHD core for those who aren’t Atmos capable), but there is also a separate 5.1 DTS-HD MA track on board as well. Something which makes me scratch my head as the Atmos core is available. Well, the two tracks are fairly similar, but I obviously am giving a nod to the Atmos track. The sense of dimensionality and rich fullness that exudes from the mix is nothing short of amazing. The first few minutes let the listener what they’re in for as Affleck’s character pulls off a heist and the gunfire and directional shifting around the sound stage with the resulting car chase had me floored. LFE is impactful and powerful when used. REALLY powerful at that. The Tommy gun blasts impact with the weight a freight train and the rumbling sound of tires on pavement or the like make for in impressive low end experience. The surrounds are used incredibly well (including the heights) with the sounds of Miama wildlife and the hustle and bustle of the city life. Listen to the birds chirping from behind and above when Joe and Graciela are walking down the beach near the end. Simply put, a marvelous track.
• Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live By Night
• The Men of Live By Night
• Live By Night's Prolific Author
• In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase
• Deleted Scenes
• Deleted Scenes Commentary
• Director's Commentary
Despite not being an epic gangster movie or up to the high standards we’ve come to expect from Ben Affleck recently, “Live by Night” is a fairly entertaining gangster flick. It’s a bit slow and sluggish at times, but there’s enough going on to keep me interesting. My only complaint was that with such a languid pace I was checking how long the movie had left a few more times than I really would have liked. The acting was well done, and Affleck never fails to disappoint, but for some intangible reason I couldn’t really get “enthralled” with the story. The technical specs for the film are nothing short of amazing with solid extras as well. Sadly, no 4K UHD (the film was finished with a 4K DI supposedly) or nice slipcover, but a very stable looking release. Worth a good rental.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Dennis Lehane, Ben Affleck
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Core), English DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish, Portuguese DD 5.1
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 129 Minutes
Own Live By Night on Blu-ray, DVD on March 21, or Own It Early Today!
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