Film Review – Live By Night

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Film Review – Live By Night In Cinemas January 26th, 2017.

As Ben Affleck tells me about his latest project that sees him produce, direct, star in and write the screenplay for – Live By Night – “I was trying to make an homage to classic gangster movies basically, to the kind of movies that used to be big, crowd-pleasing blockbuster movies (that) were epic dramas of scale where it was about the costumes and the extras and the whole production and that is a Hollywood that I kind of miss a little bit so I wanted to try to make a homage to that.”

He has definitely achieved that ambitious goal with a glorious, richly detailed, sprawling gangster epic spanning several decades that draws the viewer into the seedy underworld of the Prohibition booze trade.

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Chock full of outstanding performances, including chameleon-like turns from Sienna Miller and Elle Fanning, hypnotic visuals from three-time Academy Award winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (JFK, The Aviator, Hugo) and based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island and The Wire), this is about an intricate a film as you could wish for.

Affleck’s character kicks off the film with his voice speaking over still images of Boston from a century ago –  “In 1917 I signed up to fight the Huns in France”.

“I left a soldier. I came home an outlaw. I swore never to take orders again…I lived that life for ten years until it caught up with me.”

LIVE BY NIGHTSmall time crook Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is in love with Irish gangster moll Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). Trouble is, she is the squeeze of Albert White (Robert Glenister) a big time crook.

After being called to a meeting with an Italian crime boss – Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone), Joe is blackmailed into a job, lest the mob reveal his secret relationship with Emma.

As the distracted getaway driver of a car for a bank robbery, Joe leads the local police on a wild car chase, ending in the deaths of several officers.

It is a fantastic sequence and made me wonder, “Where on Earth have all these 100-year-old cars been hiding…?

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Affleck laughs – “ Good question. Well, a lot of those cars we rebuilt from old cars and old pieces and old parts and kind of jerry-rigged them together. In truth the originals were about 13 horsepower, so it would have been a not very exciting chase. So we gassed ‘em up a little bit and boost the engine a bit and suspension and stuff so you can give them a little bit more balls to the chase.”

So not quite giving George Miller a run for his money. It’s not a Mad Max…?

Admits Affleck –  “No. It’d be tough to do Mad Max with 18 horsepower.”

It is this fantastic chase sequence through the streets of Boston along with the imagery of the city that reminds you of both the director and the author’s fascination with their historic hometown.

This film is a classy piece of work, and while perhaps could have stretched to a mini-series to tell the overlapping story arcs and plot twists, as a feature film it works a treat, provided you can keep up with the many characters and developments that occur in rapid succession.

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There are some magnificent ideas in this story including the notion that all vice is recession proof, and Coughlin’s willingness to deal in illicit profit of every imaginable nature is still relevant today, with our unhealthy appetite for alcohol, gambling and drugs. The role of immigrants in creating civilizations is discussed and the film blows up the notion that achieving the American Dream is possible, due to the unshakable grip of the “people in charge”.

There is SO much going on in this story you are either going to LOVE being swept along in the glamorous, dangerous and intoxicating world of depression-era gangs, or you will find the whole thing too much to deal with.

I for one relished escaping to the Roaring Twenties for a couple of hours to live in the shoes of a deeply conflicted man, inhabited by Affleck with all his trademark style. With its violence, black humour, incredible locations and eye for detail for the period it is depicting, Live By Night will reward those cinemagoers with attention and patience keen on experiencing a deeply nuanced and comprehensively realised film.

4 Stars. “A Top Shelf Bootlegger Epic.”

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