The Wasted Potential of Live By Night

The story of a sprawling epic turned into something very different

Note: I haven’t read the source novel

Live By Night, Ben Affleck’s new movie, could’ve been a nice limited series. It also would’ve been a more interesting movie if it had chosen to spread its story out over a longer run time.

At just over 2 hours, Live By Night is not long enough. I never thought I’d say that but here I am. Let’s break it down as to why.

Live By Night spans roughly 10 to 15 years in protagonist Joe Coughlin’s life. Think about how many people you’d meet over that much time. As a result, there are lots of interesting characters in Live By Night. I only wish we could’ve spent more time with them.

Furthermore, at times, Live By Night feels far too episodic for what it is. It jumps from plot point to plot point. Characters appear, then disappear. If only this movie was 30 minutes longer…(can’t believe I’m saying it again!)

With an extra 30 minutes, we would get to dive deeper into backstories – actually, scratch that. We’d get to dive deeper into the seemingly brief stories we got. We could let characters and events develop and it would allow for seamless transitions compared to what we got.

The other route for this material is to jump into TV. If Affleck had embraced the model of many popular TV shows, the episodic nature of the movie he made might actually make more sense.

There’s strong source material from what it looks like. Affleck just mishandles it.

His script relies on narration, time and time again. The film opens on narration, transitions on narration and prefers to tell, not show. I’ve enjoyed movies that like telling. I don’t enjoy movies that unnecessarily explain scenes that are about to happen.

His performance is, well, lacklustre. I wasn’t the biggest fan of him here. Steely-faced, cold and emotionless, whether delivering a joke or acting intimidating, he ends up fitting into his movie only 50% of the time. Other times, he seems out of place. I might have wanted to see this in a different actor’s hands.

I think it’s possible Affleck bit off more than he could chew.

And I say that because there’s some stuff in here that I really like, too. I enjoyed Chris Messina in his scene stealing role and Elle Fanning was pretty good. The costumes were cool. That little number Ben Affleck gets to wear (the one in the movie poster) is something else. Cinematography was kind of a highlight for me, too, especially when it gets to the wide, sweeping landscapes. The movie just had a nice look.

All in all, Ben Affleck is his new film’s jack of all trades. It’s a shame he’s a master of none.