Welcome to A-Ron’s movie review flashback. Before I started writing reviews for Maui Watch, I used to write reviews just for fun on Facebook. They weren’t as evolved as they are now but they were still pretty good. Recently I’ve been getting reminders on Facebook’s past memories, about old movie reviews I’ve written. I figure my gig as movie critic on Maui Watch is a good place to share my old reviews in a new segment I call:
A-Ron’s Movie Review Flashback.
Here is my January 14, 2017 review I had written on director and star Ben Affleck’s “Live By Night”, originally released January 13th, 2017.
For years Ben Affleck has been criticized by both critics and some audience members for his “bad film choices”. He often gets criticized for either his performance or his movie role choices. In 2007 he turned the tables and made everyone eat their words when he made his brilliant directorial debut and giving his brother Casey Affleck a starring role in “Gone Baby Gone”. Since his debut he has gone on to direct two more films, his masterful Boston bank robbery crime story “The Town” and the based on a true story film “Argo” which went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Affleck’s career was on a high. All three films were huge successfully with critics and audiences. Everyone started realizing Affleck is a real artist. Now 10 years after “Gone Baby Gone”, Affleck returns behind the camera for his fourth film based on Dennis Lehane’s (“Mystic River”) gangster saga “Live By Night”. This marks Affleck’s second big screen adaptation of a Lehane novel his first being “Gone Baby Gone”. With “Live By Night” Affleck serves as Director, Star, Producer and Screenplay writer.
“Live By Night” is a throwback to feels of the old-time gangster melodramas Warner Bros put out in the thirties. It’s influenced by classics that kick-started the careers of legends like James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G Robinson. Cagney is especially influenced here, with Affleck’s good but bad guy not a far cry from the noble gangsters Cagney played in other Warner Bros gangster films.
The film is influenced by Cagney but feels a bit like Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin’s 2013 period gangster flick “Gangster Squad”. Even though “Live By Night” isn’t as perfect as his previous films. It fits in nicely with his body-of-work as a director, having the atmosphere of “Gone Baby Gone”, the firepower and violence of “The Town”, and the scale and confidence of “Argo”. It all adds up to a pretty pleasing package, which comes in at two hours and ten minutes.
The biggest problem lies with author Lehane’s story. Its a curiously unfocused Prohibition-era gangster epic with a few provocative plot threads but an increasingly meandering main story line that goes from intriguing to confusing. Lehane takes his time with the story. Having alot of conversations between different characters, settings and deals going down. All of this is transferred to the screen by Affleck and his script adaptation. The film itself and Affleck deserves no bashing. He is only doing his job of bringing and paying respect to the author and his vision. Affleck doesn’t pump meaningless action just to keep the picture in action mode. He is following the structure of Lehane’s novel. The only mistake I believe Affleck made was making him the star of the film.
For those who know me. They know I adore the work and career of Affleck and that he is my favorite celebrity and actor. As a deep of a fan as I am. I have to be honest that he doesn’t have enough of a mr mean guy persona in him to pull off the role of a gangster. But when he does get in the middle of a gun battle or is mowing guys down with a machine gun he does it well and fits right in. I was hoping to see the tough gritty Affleck from “The Town”. Originally Leonardo DiCaprio was attached to star but decided to stay on as a Producer. Honestly after seeing DiCaprio in “The Departed” I think he would have done well with it.
Despite that Affleck does a superb job as a director. He constructs well choreographed action scenes. He never skimps on action, staging plenty of large scale gun fights, bolstered by the hard-R rating. When the violence comes, it comes hard and heavy and in sometimes shocking fashion. It’s mob gunfire in the tradition of Coppola and Scorsese. There are many little moments during the violence that matters and makes each sequence unique.
The car chase featuring cars from the late 1920’s is remarkable and extremely well executed. Not since Johnny Depp’s “Public Enemies” have I seen cars from that era get a cinematic car chase before. The final shootout is much like “The Town”, where the final gun fight is fast and violent. Aside from the graphic violence Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography is one to behold. Altogether, it adds up to a very entertaining gangster picture.
As it stands, “Live By Night” comes in at 4th behind his other films as a director. If this one gets a director’s cut, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised as people’s interest in it will grow considerably. Until then, it’s still a solid crime flick from one of the best directors around.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)