Live By Night Early Reviews: A Mediocre American Dream

Live by Night trailer featured

Ben Affleck announced himself to the movie world as a more-than-capable director back in 2007 when he helmed the adaptation of Denis Lehane's novel Gone Baby Gone. Since that time, the Oscar winner has emerged as one of this generation's premier filmmakers, calling the shots on acclaimed crime drama The Town and Best Picture recipient Argo. His prowess behind the camera (combined with some standout performances in other movies like Gone Girl), led Affleck to the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the DC Extended Universe, where he will helm The Batman - the character's first solo vehicle in the franchise.

Before then, however, Affleck has another film coming out. We speak of Live By Night, Affleck's second adaptation of a Lehane book. A story set in the Prohibition Era, many were excited to see the director take on a big-scale crime epic. The trailers promised a tale that was ambitious and grand in scale, and the hope was it would be another awards contender for Affleck. Now that the first wave of reviews have made their way online, it seems Affleck has his first misfire as a helmsman.

We have collected some SPOILER FREE excerpts for your reading convenience. Those who are interested in reading the full reviews ahead of time can click on the corresponding links with each snippet.

THR - David Rooney

Adult male audiences with an appetite for old-school gangster action might be intrigued, but anyone hoping this would join the ranks of distinctive Prohibition thrillers like The Untouchables, Miller's Crossing or Once Upon a Time in America will find it lacks the teeth of those films, even though it doesn't stint on bloodshed.

Ben Affleck in Live By Night

Variety - Owen Gleiberman

Based on a 2012 novel by Dennis Lehane, the film is sharply written and crafted, lavishly photographed, impeccably acted, with lots of twists and turns — yet for all that, it somehow lacks zing. I say “somehow” because the flaw, or limitation, or whatever it is about Live by Night isn’t obvious. It’s like seeing the ghost of a terrific movie: All the pieces are in place, yet as you’re watching it (or thinking back on it afterwards), there doesn’t seem to be quite enough there there.

New York Daily News - Stephen Whitty

Although Affleck's been a decent director - capturing real local color in Gone Baby Gone and The Town, building tension nicely in Argo - his work here is dim and dull. Live by Night may be about rum, but the pacing is like molasses. And as its glum leading man, the star never shines. He has none of the lethal charm - or dangerous unpredictability - that would make a character like this worth watching. Instead of a mobster clawing his way to the top he's a district manager, trying to boost third-quarter profits.

Time Out - Tomris Laffly

Chock-full of sturdy fedoras, thick accents and double-crossing mobsters, the resulting film is both remarkably compelling and a bewildering mixed bag. Several impressively scaled yet disjointed set pieces span across the chilly, crime-infested streets of Boston and the swelteringly hot Florida environs overflowing with rum runners. But an overlong set up, where Affleck’s character hops in and out of prisons and hospitals one too many times, combined with several implied endings, put a mighty dent in this otherwise competent package.

Ben Affleck and Sienna Miller in Live By Night

IGN - Jim Vejvoda

Director-star Ben Affleck’s Live by Night boasts impeccable casting, period recreation, action set-pieces, and cinematography, but it’s marred by a disjointed narrative and some choppy pacing. It meanders, short-shrifts several key characters and subplots, and simply has too many things to juggle in two-plus hours.

Screen Daily - Tim Grierson

A gangster movie without a killer instinct, Live By Night looks resplendent in its period costumes and moody décor, but writer-director-star Ben Affleck never burrows into the genre’s knotty moral complexity or honor-among-thieves worldview.

The early consensus seems to be that Live By Night is more of a mixed bag than a truly "bad" film, which will nevertheless be disappointing for those who have enjoyed Affleck's earlier directorial efforts. It sounds like the main story is a bit too sprawling for its two-hour runtime, and it would have benefitted from being presented in a different format, such as a cable miniseries. Critics were impressed with the high production values that capture the look of the 1920s period beautifully, but the screenplay has too many narrative and characterization shortcomings to overcome. Live By Night attempts to tackle too much at once, meaning the story isn't as engaging as it could have been. Many are in agreement the cast are all fine in their roles, but none of the parts are truly fleshed out in a compelling way.

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see how this reaction impacts the film's box office prospects. Warner Bros. will release Live By Night nationwide on January 13, 2017 (following a limited release on Christmas), where it will be going up against Peter Berg's acclaimed Boston Marathon bombing drama Patriots Day. Adults in the mood for some serious-minded fare could end up opting for the Mark Wahlberg vehicle, especially since its word-of-mouth is currently stronger. For Affleck, hopefully he will fine tune his approach for The Batman so the DCEU installment can be a return to the taut, exciting filmmaking he's become known for.

Sources: Various (see links)

Key Release Dates
  • Live By Night (2016) release date: Dec 25, 2016
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