Live by Night – review

Live by Night is a period crime drama set in Boston in the 1920s and 30s following Joe Coughlin who finds himself thrust into organized crime and gang life with his peers as he fights off competition from other gangs vying for money and power, the film stars Ben Affleck, Siena Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Miguel.

Period gangster films are a bit of a novelty these days, a time period that seems to be glorified in film but films we get about the prohibition era/20s/30s tend to all be fairly formulaic and similar and Live by Night is no real exception, a film following gangsters going about their ways, somewhat unrepentantly, which can make for awkward viewing when the film wants you to empathise with the characters despite their immoral actions. That being said, you do sort of warm to Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) who does do bad things, but has an inkling of good in him, making for a fairly three dimensional character rather than a generic one note gangster, who his good friend Dion (Chris Messina) comes across as, though Chris brings a pretty spirited and enthusiastic performance in the film.

The performances in the film on the whole are fairly good, Affleck doesn’t shine but doesn’t quite phone it in either, being pretty passable, while Sienna Miller pulls off a pretty fantastic Irish accent in her role as Emma, former lover of Joe, though it’s a shame she doesn’t get to do a whole lot in the film.

There’s also some well done production design in capturing the feeling of the time period for the film in terms of costumes, locales and even down to the guns used, everything looks convincing for the 20s’, whether or not you may be that engaged in the story – and to further expand on that, the story is a bit… lacklustre and didn’t quite grab me, with a fairly rushed introduction to Joe Coughlins’ life and little to nothing on his background, I couldn’t empathise too much with him, especially because of his actions through the plot. The characters seem to just go through the motions in the plot without much consequence and while the action may be fun to watch for some, there wasn’t much depth to be had, which is what Affleck seemed to be trying to go for. Though to be fair, some of the set pieces are fairly well done and the violence isn’t gratuitous or over done to the to the point of it being comical.

The plot sort of meanders on a few different areas, being set in the prohibition era and referencing it but not really being about it (a pretty fascinating period in American history mind you), things get more focused on Joe and Dion as they go about their business and it just doesn’t quite make for interesting or compelling viewing, with the characters not being that likeable or interesting, despite the era itself the plot is set in being interesting.


. Fairly dull plot

. Unlikeable characters, hard to empathise with

. Has some nice shots, set pieces


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