Live By Night (2017) A lesson in checking your own homework

Starring: Ben Affleck

ScreenPlay: Ben Affleck

Director: Ben Affleck

Review Author: Ben Affleck (Fo’ real though, Adam Monks)

Assistant to Ben Affleck: Ben Affleck

Only Fan: Ben Affleck..

Rating: 2 glasses of bootleg rum.

Sometimes, a film makes you recognise enormous personality flaws in yourself. Sometimes it’s on purpose and other times it’s because what you’re seeing is so lacking in any sort of substance you get distracted and end up bet into a cinema seat contemplating life. Live By Night, like me, suffers from an enormous lack of focus, peppered with a strange Irish accent.

As a rule, whenever possible, I went into this film blind. I saw no second trailer and did no research other than ‘Affleck directed this, must be good‘.


As the film starts you notice his name appearing under every senior job title a film could possibly hold and it wouldn’t shock me to hear that he somehow held his own boom mic too. He wrote(the screenplay), Directed and stars in this enormous film. He’s all over this thing and I think that may have in part lent itself to its downfall. There’s no evidence that anyone ever sat him down and made him focus.  Now, the film is based off the real life story of a real gangster with a conscience and that can’t be an easy thing to do- to try and compress a life down into 2 hours and not leave anything out. As a director you have to make the choice eventually as to what story you want to tell, and what’s irrelevant to that. That decision was never made in this film and it tries to take on too much, and spread itself too thinly across every aspect of a rich and long life.

It’s a strong start, set very much in the same tone as Peaky Blinders- the war veteran who decides he doesn’t want to take orders anymore and becomes a bandit, as things progress his morals are challenged, a women betrays him and he sets out on a revenge story- taking on things he never thought he would and challenging himself; stepping onto the edge of the abyss to a life of hard crime. That’s all well and good and it’s a great story. And if the film had been that it would have been just perfect. But much like a hangover piss after a heavy night it; splits off and goes all over the place just making a mess.

I get the overwhelming sense that he couldn’t make his mind up, it takes on so so so many new characters and genres and romances and religious conflicts and political socio-economical plots that eventually I just stopped caring about each new face and waited for the shootout. At one point or another, Live By Night, completely emulates a different film  for about 15-25 minutes- dancing between them all and muddling things up.

The whole thing screams ‘vanity project’ and it’s unfortunate, because each direction it goes down has such potential and it’s made very well too. With every new angle and plot point, though, you suffer a lack of time to cover it all and that means a lack of closure- it doesn’t really get a chance to close all the doors it opens for you. At one point it even acknowledges this in a very meta-frustrating way- ‘I had things I wanted to say to him…oh well’.

I’m a nerd for this stuff, so I must comment on incredible attention to detail- the 20’s are a hard decade to recreate but between the cars and the fashion it looks and feels brilliant. But… the passing of time and overall pace is something that is not at all respected, not only does no one age over this 20 year saga, but you legitimately have to guess at one point if 3 years have passed or not…I mean I’ve just watched it and I still don’t know.

It’s a film that has great potential but tries to be too many things to too many people. If you like the look of the trailer but have been completely put off by this then give the following things a go in any order and you’ll get the same story told to you in a more enjoyable way:

  • Peaky Blinders
  • Scarface
  • House of Cards
  • Lovin’
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Doubt
  • Lawless

Seen it, disagree? Let us know @ReeltimeDublin on Twitter.

Author: Reel Time Flicks

Passionate about film and writing since 2015.

2 thoughts

  1. Good review. I agree. The movie has potential, but serves “too many masters” in its undertaking, which makes the film feels overstuffed and underdeveloped.


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