By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas, US)


Live by Night is an Intriguing Perspective on Film

Live by Night is an intriguing and confusing perspective of the art of filmmaking, especially due to the reliance on Ben Affleck’s vision. Ben Affleck directed, wrote, produced, and starred in this film. While the movie includes very creative and vibrant visuals, which puts Affleck’s skills in the art of direction on full display for the audience. This direction combines a narrative that focuses on the character of Joe Coughlin who is an aspiring outlaw who is trying to climb the ranks of the mob’s system. After a tragedy takes place in his life, we then watch his rise from the ashes to overcome the power and the vast grasp that the Mob possesses. This narrative is incredibly convoluted in the way it handles characterization and character interactions, but in the broad perspective, the story continues its pace without losing its thematic ideas of greed, pride, love, and internal conflict.

This movie is obviously a critical passion project for Ben Affleck. After his past projects as a director, we as an audience and as critics obtained high expectations for this film. I feel those expectations were satisfied for me. This movie is not a perfect, but this film’s visual, performances, and screenplay holds it together to create an entertaining that’s also enthralling. Ben Affleck’s direction is very precise in the fact that not only does he handle the scenery beautifully, but he also paces the film very well. The visual style is captivating due to its brilliant cinematography. Robert Richardson was the director of photography, and his use of color schemes combined with the scenery generates a visually satisfying film.

The screenplay of this movie is the one aspect that is facing heavy criticism due to its lack of fluidity and reliance on the narrow-minded focus on one character. I found the screenplay to be intriguing in how it handles character motivations. The writing of Ben’s character fabricates these themes that are very relatable and original. While this film is based on a novel, but in the art of filmmaking, I understand how some may view the screenplay as tedious or lackluster. But, I feel that criticism is due to their focus on the films lack of characterization because overall the script flushes out Joe Coughlin which is what the point of the writing in my opinion. The structure of this screenplay does an excellent job of seamlessly combining background plots with the main narrative, and how these stories are tied in together is brilliantly done in my opinion.

The dialogue also is very detailed in how it focuses on diction and slang that would be used during this period. The script does have its flaws, but the use of dialogue combined with character interactions construct an all-inclusive narrative. This screenplay is further progressed due to the incredible creation from the set design and location of the filmmaking. It creates such an amazing environment that flows very well with the script and the characterizations of the film.

As far as performances go, this is where I agree with most of the negative criticisms being thrown at this movie. Ben Affleck has a hard time displaying weakness in his portrayals of these strong characters. You never really feel emotionally connected to his characters based upon his lack of emotional expressionism. I still liked his performance in the film, but it was hard to create drama in this movie when your leading actor fails to display a broad range of emotions. Zoe Saldana and Chris Messina are the only other two performances that stuck out in the film. Chris does an excellent job of combining these slimy wicked traits with convincing loyalty to his allies. Zoe is awesome in displaying her full range of emotions in displaying her power as a character as well as her internal conflicts she battles as a person in the dilemma she faces in the film.

The flaws of the movie for me are entirely focused on the performances and some aspects of the screenplay. The performances are good overall, but they come off as lackluster due to the overall focus on the characterization of Joe Coughlin. Ben Affleck was also miscast in the film in my opinion. I believe this opportunity should have been given to someone else who could play these emotional conflicts with better precision, perhaps Casey Affleck. While I understand that is the film’s intention, I wish they could have created a more interesting supporting cast. This screenplay helps the intentions in how it intentionally focuses on this one-dimensional perspective which is understanding due to its reasoning, but when the film purposefully pushes character out of the narrative especially after the interest for those characters has reached a crescendo. And, it was depressing that this flaw happened more than once.

In conclusion, the film’s narrative has its flaws with how it focuses on character interactions and character developments, yet it creates a combination of entertaining moments with a sense of dramatic relation. Live by Night is a passion project for Ben Affleck that displays his directorial talents, but is bogged down by his undramatic performance. Live by Night is a film that has flaws, but not one that should be viewed and the negative criticism it’s been given.

Overall Live by Night is an entertaining film that has dramatic moments and a great use of combining multiple stories into one but suffers from lackluster performances in combination with the imprecise screenplay to provide character development. I found Live by Night very intriguing and surprising for a January film, and I’m going to give it a B-. Do you agree with the criticism the films has been given? Did you enjoy Live by Night? What should Ben Affleck do next? Let me know down in the comments below and as always have a blessed day.

Rating: 3/5



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