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Live by Night (2016)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/21/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/16/2017

When you think of Ben Affleck, what comes to mind? A certain crowd sees him as a magnet for controversy, whether it's for his casting as Batman or the weird days of Gigli or as the guy who ruined Daredevil (I liked that movie). Others think of him as a mediocre actor, although he has carried some hit films, like Gone Girl. I think that most people forget that while Affleck has spent most of his career in front of the camera, he's enjoyed a good deal of success behind the camera. From his impressive debut with Gone Baby Gone to the award-winning success of Argo, Affleck's film have shown a gritty realism, focusing on crime in Boston and a historical event in Iran. So, it's not necessarily surprising that Affleck would want to try something a little different. What is surprising about Live by Night is that while it may be a departure for Affleck, it's overly familiar to the rest of us.

Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) returns home from World War I to Boston and, despite the fact that his father (Brendan Gleeson) is a police officer, gets involved in low-level crime. After he mistakenly robs crime boss Albert White (Robert Glenister), Joe is forced to work for the mobster, which is unfortunate, as he's in love with White's mol, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). Fed up with White's abuse, Joe accepts an offers from Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) and moves to the Tampa, Florida to oversee a rum-smuggling operation. Accompanied by his best friend, Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina), Joe finds immediate success and feels at home with the ethnic minorities in the area, especially Graciela (Zoe Saldana). But, a life of crime is never easy, and the run-ins with the local law and competitors begins to weigh on Joe.

Your overall reaction to Live by Night is going to depend on one thing: Have you watched Boardwalk Empire? Why? Because the stories intersect in so many places. Both focus on America during Prohibition and the Great Depression, and show the lengths that bootleggers would go through to distribute their product. Each project demonstrates the violence involved in these endeavors and easy it was for someone to be killed at any moment and how law enforcement officials would often turn a blind eye to things. While the bulk of Boardwalk Empire took place in Atlantic City, the last season did move the action to Florida for some of the story, just as we see in Live by Night. The problem is that Boardwalk Empire did all of this so much better. Granted, that show had five seasons to build characters and storylines, but it was so much more engrossing.

Having already experienced this era made me realize just how banal and shallow Live by Night is. From the outset, the movie is simply flat. Affleck, who also wrote the screenplay, gives us action scenes, including a car-chase featuring vintage vehicles, but they simply aren't exciting. The two ambush sequences are telegraphed and hold little surprise. Likewise, the drama here is not engrossing. We are given all of the cliches of the genre, mob bosses, mols, forbidden love, double-crosses, and none of it feels the least bit fresh or original. There is one twist in the film which should be truly shocking, but the way in which it is delivered has no impact. The other main problem with the movie is that Affleck has miscast himself in the lead role. He simply plays Joe as too cold and stoic. We are told that what he witnessed in the War changed him and he clearly feels that his steely gaze will intimidate his enemies, but he takes this approach too far and Joe comes across as a non-entity. Actually, the same can be said for much of the cast, save for Chris Cooper. Affleck has gone for a tone which is so cool, that it comes off as icy.

Live by Night is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (who, incidentally wrote an episode of Boardwalk Empire), who also wrote the source material for Affleck's first film Gone Baby Gone. I can only assume that Affleck feels some sort of allegiance to fellow Massachusetts native Lehane, but I wish that he had adapted one of the other books from the series which produced Gone Baby Gone. (It should also be noted that Lehane wrote Shutter Island and that Leonardo DiCaprio was a producer on Live by Night, so there are all sorts of connections here.) So, what we get is a $65 million gangster movie which has so little to offer. Now that Affleck has tried his hand at a period piece, let's hope that he comes back to our time with his next project.

Live by Night is never clear on how that first word should be pronounced on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 29 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is notably good, as there are many shots where the actors moving in the foreground are clearly separate from the background. The level of detail is impressive as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The actors and the music sound fine, and we get some noticeable movement of sound from front to back, but the audio is a bit weak and the sound during the car chase and gun fights does not pack much of a wallop.

The Live by Night Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Ben Affleck. "Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night" (9 minutes) looks at the characters played by Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, and Elle Fanning, and includes interviews with the actresses. Similarly, "The Men of Live by Night" (9 minutes) offers interviews with Affleck, Chris Cooper, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Glenister, and Remo Girone. "Live by Night's Prolific Author" (7 minutes) delivers an interview with Dennis Lehane, as well as comments from others on his work. "In Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase" (8 minutes) takes us on-set to examines how the old cars were put into action. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 15 minutes and can be viewed with commentary from Affleck. The bulk of this is taken up by a restructured opening which shows how Joe met Emma. We also get a brand new scene in which Joe sees his brother, who is mentioned in the film, played by Scott Eastwood.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long