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Live by Night (Warner Bros Pictures)

Live by Night (Warner Bros Pictures)

Review: 'Live by Night" feels like it never truly lived

Marcus Goh

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 129 minutes (~2.15 hours)

“Live by Night” is a crime drama that’s based on the novel of the same name.

It sees the rise to power of a gangster as he struggles to retain some semblance of morality. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

“Live by Night” is directed by Ben Affleck, who also wrote the screenplay. The story is based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, “Live by Night”. It stars Ben Affleck (Joe Coughlin), Elle Fanning (Loretta Figgis), Brendan Gleeson (Thomas Coughlin), Chris Messina (Dion Bartolo), Sienna Miller (Emma Gould), Zoe Saldana (Graciela Corrales), and Chris Cooper (Irving Figgis). It is rated M-18.

“Live by Night” feels very much like a vehicle for Ben Affleck, since he’s in almost all of the important credits. And that’s where the problem lies — he’s clearly spread too thin across too many different roles. The biggest problem arises when you’re both directing and acting. It’s impossible to do a good job when you’re on both sides of the camera, and it shows in the final product. “Live by Night” feels like a movie that was shot for the sake of spending production money, rather than being driven by passion.


Loretta’s character arc

Elle Fanning plays Loretta Figgis, a character who appears midway through the film and goes through a rather dramatic character arc. You can see her transformation across each scene that she appears in, and how much she has progressed by the end of her story. For a character who was presented as a boring old stereotype at the beginning, she certainly adds much life to the film.

Joe and Dion’s friendship

The most authentic relationship in the film is that between Joe (Ben Affleck) and Dion (Chris Messina). Their dialogue feels like the most natural of all the characters, particularly when they’re ribbing each other the way good friends always do. It’s a pity that their interactions only come sporadically, because their sincerity is what creates your empathy for the main character, Joe.


Violence and gore are artificially tame

Gangster stories and bloody violence come hand-in-hand, and “Live by Night” follows this trope. For a film with a multimillion dollar budget and an M-18 rating, the gore certainly feels neutered. It’s not even artistically done, since you literally don’t see what happens. Everything conveniently happens off camera, and what you’re left with are some puddles of blood. It’s great to leave it up to the imagination, but aren’t we watching the movie to see how exactly those puddles of blood were formed?

Graciela feels like a racist afterthought

Graciela (Zoe Saldana) is the target of racism after she marries Joe. Every other scene she’s in has some depiction of the discrimination she has to face, along with some choice slurs. Unfortunately, she’s also treated as a token character by the plot. This tokenism reinforces the racist theme throughout the film, ironically making the film feel more racist through its treatment of male non-Caucasian characters. It’s bizarre and almost amusing.

Overcomplicated network of relationships

Joe’s motivation is simple — love. The plot, however, confuses you by throwing all sorts of different characters and attempting to create a complex network of relationships to explain why Joe does what he does. It’s a good effort, but it completely falls flat on its face in the execution. The relationships as presented are difficult to understand, and little time is spent developing any of them, as interesting as they might be.

“Live by Night” feels like it never truly lived.

Should you watch this if it’s free? Okay.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? No.

Score: 1.9/5

“Live by Night” opens in cinemas:
– 26 January, 2017 (Singapore)
– 18 January, 2017 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He's also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at marcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.