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Blu-ray Review: Live By Night

March 22, 2017

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a Boston-born gangster in Prohibition era, who operates on a different side of the law from his Irish cop father (Brendan Gleeson).  Following a run in with the Italian mob, he senses a way to get rich by moving his business to Miami and trying to corner the rum market, by exploiting the vast underground distilleries and supplying illegal booze to local clubs.

But when he tries to get a casino built to cash in on gambling as well, Joe finds himself navigating a dark underworld of bad business deals, crooked cops and pushback by the Ku Klux Klan, while trying to protect his wife (Zoe Saldana), who has ties to the Cuban syndicate he’s working with.

The latest from director Ben Affleck, and his second film adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel following his debut Gone Baby Gone, Live By Night is an example of a film that is pretty good all around, even as you sense that it is striving to reach a level of greatness which it never achieves.  The film isn’t in the same league as the works of Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and Sergio Leone that it tries to emulate, but it’s also something perfectly fine and competently made on its own terms.

Ben Affleck does solid work both in front of and behind the camera, staging some well done action sequences and quieter character moments, especially at the end.  The production elements are solid all around, recreating the feel of the 1920s and ’30s while still carving out its own stylish look, with fine cinematography by Robert Richardson.  The cast is loaded with great actors, even if they just appear in a couple of scenes.  Elle Fanning in particular delivers a standout performance as the daughter of a crooked police chief (Chris Cooper), who has dreams of becoming a young starlet in Los Angeles, but returns as a recovering drug addict who intensely preaches moralism and opposes the casino.

Parts of the film do feel rushed in terms of plot and character development, especially during the first act, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a longer director’s cut kicking around somewhere that the studio edited down.  But if you enjoy classic gangster movies, Live By Night is a perfectly decent entry into the genre, that is pretty entertaining to watch and carried by solid performances.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Ben Affleck joined by director of photography Robert Richardson and production designer Jess Gonchor, as well as deleted scenes and the four featurettes The Men of Live By Night, Live By Night’s Prolific Author, Angels With Dirty Faces: The Women of Live By Night, and In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase.

Live By Night is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release.  It’s 129 minutes and rated 14A.

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