LIVE BY NIGHT
Review by Gordon Justesen
Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe
Saldana, Chris Cooper
Director: Ben Affleck
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Atmos
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 129 Minutes
Release Date: March 21, 2017
“So you’re threatening me with people who are more powerful than you?”
“What the f--k am I talkin’ to you for?”
Ben Affleck has emerged as one of the best actor-turned-filmmakers in the business. Following a hot three streak with Gone Baby Gone, The Town and the Oscar-winning Argo, Affleck is back in the director’s chair for Live By Night. For some reason, this one didn’t receive the same acclaimed critical response as Affleck’s previous directing efforts, but I found it to be very much in the same league.
It’s a most intriguingly structured prohibition era gangster picture adapted from a novel by Gone Baby Gone author Dennis Lehane. The novel itself was second in a trilogy of crime stories. This one centers on Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a WWI vet who falls into the organized crime world in Boston, despite his father (Brendan Gleeson) being a police captain.
Things don’t go so well at first. Joe ends up having an affair with the crime boss’ wife, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), and escapes death by the boss’ hands by serving a three year term in jail for a previous crime. Once released, he sets foot in Ybor City in Florida to work for a rival Italian boss and help run his empire of illegal booze.
I suppose the main issue critics had with the film is that the story is a bit overstuffed, and I won’t quite disagree there. In addition to what I just went over, Joe engages in another affair with the beautiful Graciela (Zoe Saldana), his dealings with a police sheriff (Chris Cooper), as well as his heroin addicted actress daughter (Elle Fanning). And in the midst of all this, the mob is currently at war with the Ku Klux Klan.
While I can certainly understand that this would benefit more as an HBO mini-series, Affleck’s film remains most engrossing. The portion of the story dealing with the mob’s fight with the KKK is something I haven’t seen before. It does evoke a great deal of tension, and the subplot involving the sheriff’s daughter ends up going in a direction I certainly wasn’t expecting.
Another huge benefit for the film is it’s glorious production values, as the time period has never looked more beautiful, in particular the Florida setting. Robert Richardson is the cinematographer, which is all you need to know in terms of how amazing the film looks. And Affleck also stages some truly magnificent action sequences, including a car chase following a bank heist early in the film and a grand shootout finale in a hotel that really got a huge reaction out of me.
Live By Night is another strong directorial accomplishment from Ben Affleck, who I think veers closely to Scorsese territory here without being anything close to an imitator. There’s a lot to keep up with here in the story, but it never loses focus and remains a most engaging period piece. Should an extended cut ever surface, as was the case with The Town and Argo, I think we will witness one of the best masterpieces to ever emerge from the gangster genre.
The Blu-ray from Warner is hands down remarkable. Again, a period gangster epic photographed by Robert Richardson can’t do anything but look grand and sumptuous, which is precisely how it is delivered here. Colors are awe-inspiring and the image detail is crisp, clean and magnificently rendered. A true home run from Warner Bros!
This may be the first Blu-ray where I’ve seen both a DTS HD and a Dolby Atmos provided. Whichever mix you choose, you will be nothing short of blown away! The action bits, especially the climax of the film, give the surround sound a terrific working. And dialogue delivery is at top notch quality from beginning to end!
Included on this Warner Blu-ray are a number of featurettes including “Angels With Dirty Faces: The Women of Live By Night”, which focuses on the good number of female characters in the film, as well as the opposite end of the spectrum with “The Men of Live By Night”. We also get additional featurettes in the form of “Live By Night’s Prolific Author”, which takes a glance at author Dennis Lehane and the impact his work has had. Then there’s “In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase”, which looks at the immense work that went into filming the car chase sequence early in the film. Rounding out the extras is a great commentary with Ben Affleck, as well as Deleted Scenes with optional commentary.
Ben Affleck has crafted a most riveting gangster piece with the vastly underrated Live By Night. From the cast to the production design to the action scenes, everything is in top form. It does have a lot of story to spare, but it never loses its grip on the viewer. A most terrific Blu-ray presentation from Warner!