We follow the story of Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck), the son of a law officer who’s sent away to war, returning home a gangster. His outlaw ways allow him to meet Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), the girlfriend of a much more powerful gangster. The two fall in love, but Joe’s past soon catches up with him, forcing him to deal with the consequences of his lifestyle. Moving to Florida, Joe joins the casino industry, trying to rise to the top and gain control of all alcohol supplies, hoping to knock down fellow gangster and longtime rival, Albert White (Robert Glenister).
The film serves as a throwback to the classic gangster films of old, cinema even becoming a theme that’s transfused somewhat into the plot. It’s an entertaining return to a genre not frequently explored nowadays, the callbacks and clichés plentiful. What you get when it comes to Live By Night isn’t a highly original, groundbreaking movie, but instead a familiar, yet enjoyable and expertly made crime drama set in the 1920s. The plot gets too convoluted for its own good at times, supporting characters coming and going within 30-minute intervals, but when it works, it’s great.
It’s a visually stimulating production, sets big and lavish and the costumes even better. Ben Affleck’s clothes always looked way too big for him, but other than that, everything felt fitting. Its pleasing design is captured well on film, the camera work a true delight. The shots are gorgeous, perfecting everything from the colour pallet to the movements of the camera. His close ups are big and intimate; the action sequences appropriately the opposite. While it’s not always the case, with Live By Night Affleck’s wok as a director far outweighs his work as an actor. It’s not that his performance is bad by any means. It’s just far from his best, a disappointment after his killer performance in The Accountant last year.
To sum up, Live By Night is far from a terrible movie, serving as an entertaining throwback to the gangster films of old. The plot moves in different directions than what’s been advertised, so don’t go in expecting an action flick, but if you can dig what they’re going for, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had.
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