I forgot to review Ben Affleck‘s Live By Night, which opened yesterday (12.25). It’s not a failure by any stretch but it is a period crime pic that never gets off the ground. It’s mildly engrossing and certainly looks good, but it feels like a bust. The only thing you can be legitimately cranked about is the carefully lighted, perfectly framed cinematography by Robert Richardson, which is more than worth the price.
The general rap is that director-star Affleck was too committed to making his character, a mild-mannered, romantic-minded Boston bootlegger named Joe Coughlin, into a likable guy without so much as the beginnings of a thorn or a weakness or a crippling flaw of any kind. I agree with that assessment.
I also feel that too few characters (i.e., hardly any) behave in a practical, common-sense way. Except for Coughlin, I mean, and his always-wisecracking, good-natured sidekick, Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina), along with his wife Graciella Corrales (Zoe Saldana), who has a fairly sensible head on her shoulders. Nearly everyone else (and this is on Dennis Lahane, who wrote the 2012 novel) behaves like an obsessive nutso of one kind of another.
I don’t really care to write any more, no offense. I just don’t feel like banging out ten or twelve paragraphs. It’s 4:30 pm and I feel spent. I’ll only say (and I mean this) that if you pay to see Live By Night, you won’t feel burned at the end. You’ll probably say to your date or your friend, “What was that? A collection of nicely directed scenes but where was the movie?” But you won’t say “I’ve been burned…that movie took two hours of my life that I’ll never get back!” Live By Night is not that kind of disappointment.
If your expectations aren’t too high (and they won’t be after reading this review), Affleck’s film will probably make you feel…I don’t know, placated or something.
I fell asleep the first time I popped in the screener, but I watched it again the next day and came away thinking, “Ehh, not bad…not great but fairly intriguing as far as it went, and Affleck…well, a very decent job of pacing and cutting and whatnot. And hats off again to Richardson. But I don’t like it when a significant girlfriend character gets plugged for no good reason.”