What makes a “bad film”? Does the whole shebang have to be rotten? Or is it just aspects – the director, the cast, the story, the idea? It might be these questions, and probably a few more, that will appear first as Live By Night’s credits tumble, along with the knowledge that this is a cracking miniseries mangled and amputated into a film.
Disappointingly, Ben Affleck’s fourth directorial outing is contaminated by egotistical ambition: the narrative’s sprawling and rapid expansion becomes cancerous and unmanageable, building to one of the poorest, most ludicrous final acts of recent years. It’s frankly beneath him.
Live by Night is overly sycophantic towards its genre conventions, managing to peck the cheeks or kiss the rings of almost all of them. There is nothing – really, nothing – new in this gangster flick, more so if you are acquainted with previous giants. Affleck takes loans out from The Godfather (particularly Part II), Goodfellas, and Scarface, but their repackaging are shallow, obvious, and messy. Crime demands spurts of fresh, piquant blood, and these types of film cry out for revolution, but Live By Night is far too bewildered to conquer new ground.
For all the criticisms constantly leveled at him, Ben Affleck is still a robust figure in cinema, and a recent renaissance along with his casting as the new Dark Knight of Gotham City means he isn’t going anywhere – at least not anytime soon. But Live by Night is a hubristic endeavour from a filmmaker who should have known better, and an important lesson that a trio of sleek films doth not a master make. The best captains remain the best because they are all still students and innovators, first.
CAST: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning, Chris Cooper, Chris Sullivan, Scott Eastwood, Robert Glenister, Sienna Miller, Remo Girone
DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck
WRITERS: Ben Affleck (screenplay), Dennis Lehane (novel)
SYNOPSIS: A story set in the Prohibition Era and centered around a group of individuals and their dealings in the world of organized crime.