Cohesiveness is an aspect of movies that holds great importance but isn’t readily noticed. Movies are assembled by scenes, of course, leading to a sort of storytelling puzzle: making sure all of these varied scenes appear in an order best suited to reveal the message of the story being told. However, movie makers are far too quick to dispose or diminish this fine interlocking mesh of events and dialogue in favor of a particular aspect of the movie, maybe the scenery, or the action. In the end, though, audiences notice this, maybe not immediately, but as a jarring disaffection to the story being told. Ben Affleck’s Live By Night takes this potentially minor incongruence and blows it up the be a major fault, highlighting so many mood and scenery changes and pushing to the forefront so much action that the entire movie becomes a mess, beginning on the joyful note of a crime-comedy such as Goodfellas and ending with a melodramatic moan as something akin to the end of a Dawson’s Creek episode.
A Ben Affleck vehicle through and through, Live By Night comes across as more of an ego-driven project than a serious attempt at adapting the Dennis Lehane novel (such as Affleck’s previous attempt: Gone Baby, Gone). Directed, adapted for screenplay by, and starring Affleck, this vehicle for his persona seems to disjoint the narrative once he takes on the role of Joe Coughlin. Coughlin’s monologues are overwrought and a constant throughout the movie, often not adding to the unfolding of the story but directly confusing it with references to future events the audience has not seen or even predicted. What makes this especially heinous is the fact that Coughlin has the makings of an excellent, interesting character, but this is all muddled by extremely poor handling.
This poor handling extends to all of the important characters in the film, characterization often feels rushed or undeveloped. However, the stellar performances put on by an amazing cast do lend some grace to the movie. Zoe Saldana has an excellent turn as Coughlin’s main love interest in the film, Graciela Corrales, though perhaps boiled down to a bit of a political stereotype (that of the Cuban freedom fighter) she does serve to brighten a movie filled with otherwise damaged and dreary characters. Chris Cooper serves well as sheriff Irvin Figgis of Ybor City, the town Joe Coughlin must wrangle under his criminal empire, providing a kaleidoscopic take on the character, his emotions and motivations changing several times. Though, it is the character of the sheriff’s daughter, Loretta, that really shines in this movie, providing an angelic sense of purity (and possibly naiveté) to the cruel happenings of the world around her. There are many other good performances throughout the film, starring luminaries such as Sienna Miller as Coughlin’s first love and his cop father played by Brendan Gleeson, two characters who bookend the movie very well.
The problem comes in that these fantastic actors don’t have much narrative room to flex their characters; movie time is so exorbitantly absorbed by gratuitous panning of scenery and seemingly endless dialogue that the purpose of these characters is lost. Big action scenes also, while exciting, end up detracting from the fluidity of the story overall. One of the biggest noticeable inconsistencies is the tone of the movie. The tone shifts wildly, this movie touching nearly all parts of the genre wheel: biopic, crime caper, comedy, drama, action flick; it’s hard to nail down one feel to the movie, which in this case is not an endorsement of originality but rather a deflection of narrative pacing.
Ultimately, this feels like Ben Affleck really enjoyed the novel Live By Night was based on and put forth a half-hearted attempt that was more ego-driven than artistically motivated. Tonally, the movie is all over the place, and while respectable actors give respectable performances, it is hard to hold onto anything in a narrative that is so mangled. Perhaps this was a film Affleck just had to get through to be able to begin The Batman, the rushed feeling is clear when the movie is over, wrapping up in a snap, leaving the audience very little room to take in the emotion of the film’s climax. Hopefully with that project, Affleck will make sure his story is a little more cohesive, binding together great performances by actors and great action with plot, as opposed to Live By Night, where the audience is hopelessly distracted by it all.
[easyreview title= "Review of Live By Night" cat1title="Bart's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="2.0" overall= false]