Live By Night Review: Affleck Misses Mark By Casting Himself In Lead Role

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Ben Affleck has not had an easy time in the last few months, with all the Batman drama at Warner Brothers and DC don’t help anything, but after seeing his latest directorial effort, I may see why he didn’t want the stresses of directing another big film for a little while. Affleck transports us into the roaring 20’s in Prohibition-era Boston and Tampa in his latest crime drama where he brings an ensemble of talent who get lost in the shuffle of a film that focuses too heavily on Ben Affleck rather than the character he is portraying. Instead of getting lost into a period of rich mythologies, you are stalled by Ben Affleck seducing beautiful women in a fedora that feels like a parody of itself more than a legitimate style choice.

The story in of itself should be a sweeping epic through a period in time whose natural flare is rarely seen done well on screen. Instead, Affleck puts himself front and center in what felt more like an exercise of ego instead of a role to get lost into a character with. As an auteur thus far, there’s nothing wrong with Affleck trying to find a balance as a writer, director, and actor, but there’s a time when you have to realize that films are a collaborative medium and can’t be created by just one person’s biases and visions. There’s a level of arrogance in the lead role than nuance and subtly that the role was likely better suited for. This is a violent, corrupt ecosystem that feeds off of itself and others alike, I wouldn’t imagine after getting beat up, you just rise from the ashes so easily, but that’s where the film quickly ends up going with Affleck’s character. For me, it feels more like ego getting in the way of the performance which for future films he directs can easily be solved by just taking himself out of the starring role, and letting his actors do the literal talking.

Instead of getting an actor who can show us the fear and danger of prohibition era criminals, Affleck stands awfully comfortably as Joe Coughlin, quickly proving that this was more of a miscast that he may have hoped. His prowess as a crime-thriller director is set, nowhere in trouble nor will it be tainted by this attempt, but it may be time for Affleck to focus on one whether he’d prefer to direct or act in each project he takes on. His work in Gone Girl under David Fincher proved to be a landmark of his acting ability while still being in his realm of familiarity for him while still grasping the character he was portraying. Sadly, Affleck drops that same Boston accent we’ve heard since Good Will Hunting without any real differentiating factors to set his character apart from other roles he’s done.

For a film that was only two hours long, the editing made it feel incredibly dull and boring at times then entirely too quick at others, leaving you nausiated by the lack of focus the film seemed to not bring in the editing room. Quick cuts to montage or to cheaply move sections of a story along that could have just let the images do the talking, I got taken out of the film early on rather than honing in on the details. Affleck is a man who is best when he is pulling the strings – like a director and the characters he’s played before – like Geppetto only to be gobbled up by a whale sized level of monosyllabic flatness that hurts the overall production. Affleck will recover very quickly and having such great vision for films whether good or mediocre is as clear as day, I’d hope he figures out that he needs to be the world class director that he is, and let the other actors do the acting to carry the films.

SCORE: D+

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