Film Review: Ben Affleck’s Live By Night (USA, 2016) is a visually stunning yet slow running 1920s gangster film

Based on the 2012 novel by Dennis Lehane of the same name, Live By Night is set in the prohibition era across the 1920s and 1930s. The man at the centre of the story, Joe Coughlin, is played by Ben Affleck, who brought this adaptation to life. He directed, wrote and produced the film, which ended up being an (only slightly) above-average addition to his quality catalogue.

The story follows Joe from humble beginnings as a run-of-the-mill outlaw, chronicling his rise in the gangster world he refuses to be a part of, facing obstacles (mostly women) along the way. These include his own father, Thomas who happens to be a cop (played to perfection by Brendan Gleeson), Emma Gould, a gangster’s wife (well played by Sienna Miller) and later, Loretta Figgis (the stunning Elle Fanning).

Affleck does his job well, even though his Boston accent slips away from time to time, the film has been brilliantly cast, including Joe’s love, Graciela (Zoe Saldana). Mysterious, sweet, loving and strong, she is the ideal woman for Joe who brings him peace and happiness in their little world of organised crime.

Others that deserve a mention include the sickening Ku Klux Klan member RD Pruitt (Matthew Maher), and the tumultuous fall of a cop and loving father to Loretta, Chief Figgis (Chris Cooper).

Apart from casting, another triumph is the visual aesthetic in costuming and staging. It really captured the time and place. However, there were moments of direction where gangsters looked like they were in such a formation that they were ready to burst into song and dance. Placement seemed quite artificial and at times it felt as if you were watching a stage play rather than a film on the big screen.

The action sequences, which included car chases and shoot-outs, were well executed and confronting at times. The film covers a lot of space and time, and when there wasn’t a lot of action, it did tend to drag. Even with a running time of 129 minutes, it feels a lot longer. The film takes a bit of time to find its rhythm, but by the time it does, you’ve reached the climax and it’s time to go home.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Live By Night is released in Australian cinemas today, January 26th

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