Ben Affleck’s latest directorial endeavor, takes us back to the past for some old time, mob action as it arrives on blu-ray this week. Is the period drama worth the effort, or nothing more than a rental? Check out my full review to find out!
Some of the best things Ben Affleck has done lately, involved his directing efforts. Argo and The Town are some of my favorites to come back to, and as such, I was eager to see how he handled a prohibition era film.
Based off a novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote the novel Gone Baby Gone, which was Affleck’s directorial debut), Live By Night chronicles the journey of Joe Coughlin as he goes from veteran to small-time gangster, to one of the top guys in charge of a massive bootlegging operation. When he falls in love with the wrong woman and rubs the wrong way of a rival mob boss, his journey becomes one of both revenge and living the life he wants to, without answering to anyone.
With corrupt cops, mob war, and a forbidden (especially for the time) love affair, there are a lot of great story elements going on. It has a stellar cast behind it as well, with plenty of great actors on hand to chew up the scenery, and it's easily one of the most beautifully shot period films I've seen in a long time. Seriously, it's pretty gorgeous and features some excellent attention to detail. You're transported back to the 1920s and it's impressive how they recreated the feel of that era. Not to mention how gorgeously the film is shot...I mean, the lighting and angles do as much to sell you on the mood/overall purpose of each scene as the dialog and actions are.
All of this sounds like a win for audiences right? Interesting story premise, great actors, and excellent visual filmmaking should be the recipe for something special. So why then does Live By Night fall so flat? It's hard to pinpoint any one thing that doesn't work, but instead of coming together into a cohesive story it feels more like a bunch of slice of life snippets rolled into a two hour mess.
While I love Ben Affleck as an actor, and don't feel he gets enough credit for his work, his turn as Joe Coughlin just didn't work. He goes from scene to scene without much change in emotional resonance. As such, it's hard to connect, or feel any legitimate emotion towards pivotal story events, as it's all from his character's (rather dull) perspective.
It seems to be a case of Affleck having too many "hats", being the Director, Producer, writer, and actor. Something had to give, and unfortunately, it was the performance on screen. While I think everyone else did a solid job, Affleck's Joe Coughlin just didn't give anyone enough to bounce off of. The end result is a film that has all the right elements, but comes off as a disjointed mess. Frustratingly, you can see the potential evident, but it never quite gets off the ground.
Sight and Sound
Having been shot by Oscar winning cinematographer, Robert Richardson, on some high end camera equipment, Live By Night looks amazing (like I already mentioned). In this regard, the blu-ray transfer quality really highlights how pretty this movie can be. The image quality is sharp and clear, perfectly capturing the period details on the costumes and setting. The deep blacks allow the moody lighting to work well on the smaller screen without losing any of the finer details.
The sound design on Live By Night is pretty impressive, managing to bring in a lot of authentic sounds from the time period, really selling the experience and immersing you in the world they've created. The lossless surround sound on the blu-ray does a solid job of showcasing this. I will say, however, I did have some issue with the dialog prioritization. There were a few times throughout the movie I had to grab the remote to turn up the volume during dialog heavy scenes, only to quickly turn it back down when other sound effects blasted through. It wasn't a frequent occurrence, but just enough to be irksome.
The Bonus Features
Live By Night's blu-ray comes with these special features on the disc:
Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live By Night
The Men of Live By Night
Live By Night’s Prolific Author
In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase
Deleted Scenes Commentary
Considering how easy it would have been for WB to "barebones" this blu-ray release (they've done it with other period dramas), it's nice to see they put a decent amount of features on the disc. That doesn't mean they're necessarily all that interesting, but it's nice to see them put forth the effort on this type of flick. The featurettes give you a little more depth to the characters in the film, and the conversation with the book's author is a nice touch with some cool insight, but the behind the scenes look at the car chase is probably the most engaging.
While they offer some nice extra content, none of them really feel all that engaging. Perhaps it's because I wasn't enamored with the movie, I had a hard time working up any sort of enthusiasm for extra content.