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Movie Review: “Live by Night”

Updated on May 29, 2020
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There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Live by Night

Theatrical Release: 1/13/2017
Theatrical Release: 1/13/2017 | Source


Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1917, he enlisted in the military. What he witnessed at war scarred him, and he vowed that if he survived and made it back home, he would never follow the rules of civilian society. Life is fragile, and why should he waste his living the life by the rules? Once he returns to Boston, he becomes an outlaw, criminal, and a gangster, and as a result, he gains some powerful allies. Unfortunately, he makes enemies who are just as powerful, if not more so. Thus, he decides to take his skills to Florida, where he leads a branch of the Italian mob during the prohibition. However, when his history catches up with him, he finds himself on the bad side of the Ku Klux Klan and some powerful new enemies.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

The Pros
The Cons
The Characters (+8pts)
Too Much (-5pts)
Mob Action (+6pts)
Tease (-4pts)
Visuals (+6pts)
Transitions & Wide Shots (-4pts)

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.


Pro: The Characters (+8pts)

The plot of this movie was pretty complex, but in a good way. This was due to the interesting cast of characters, who made for a number of interesting character relationships and dynamics. I liked seeing the rivalry of the Italian and Irish mobs, and I enjoyed seeing how Joe Coughlin fit into that. I also liked seeing how Joe Coughlin and his father Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson) got along, considering Thomas was a reputable member of Boston Law Enforcement, and Joe was very much on the bad side of the law. I cannot remember Thomas Coughlin's exact position on the force, but I thought that him being a cop made his relationship with his son really interesting.

I liked the brotherhood between Joe Coughlin and his criminal crew. I liked seeing Joe Coughlin's rise to power and his attempt at keeping it. There was a lot to like, regarding the characters in this movie. The characters were complex, and their interests and morals conflicted with other characters, making the relationships between those characters tense and compelling. There was certainly room for improvement for this movie, but I thought the filmmakers did a really good job with the characters in it.


Con: Too Much (-5pts)

Due to all the complex characters, there was a lot this movie had to cover. While that helped the movie in certain ways, such as resulting in strong characters, I felt it also hurt the movie in others. This movie was long, so long that it felt like two full movies. The runtime for Live by Night was two hours and nine minutes, but to me, it easily felt like three hours. The first hour or so told the story of Joe Coughlin's life in Boston, Massachusetts. This was the first movie.

The second movie told the story of Joe Coughlin's rise to power in Florida during the prohibition. The filmmakers crammed a lot into a two hour runtime, but because of the pacing—I will address the pacing later in this review, when I discuss the transitions—it just felt like a really long movie. I felt as though this movie would have been better as a TV series or split into two two-hour movies, so that the filmmakers could give everything the time it needed. Everything just felt rushed, which caused the movie to be less impactful and also caused it to feel like an incredibly long movie.


Pro: Mob Action (+6pts)

The mob action in this movie was really fun to watch. We had old school cars, and pistols as well as classic Tommy guns and shotguns. This movie had some violent moments with some awesome action sequences. While I could have used more of it—I will discuss this later in this review as well—I thought that the action in this movie was great. The climax of the movie, specifically, was an absolute blast, as tons of mobsters and gangsters were in an all out war. If you are a fan of mob movies and this kind of action, the action in Live by Night will not disappoint, you will just wish there was more of it.


Con: Tease (-4pts)

While the action in this movie was great, I would have liked to have seen more of it. There were a few moments in the movie where the filmmakers delivered build up and build up, all suggesting an intense action sequence was coming. Then when the action finally came, we the filmmakers delivered a montage sequence and narration from Ben Affleck as he told us what had happened, instead of showing us. It was as if the filmmakers were teasing us with action then gave us a tiny taste of action to keep the our thirst barely satisfied. In other words, there were a few times where I felt robbed of a decent action sequence. Fortunately, the filmmakers ended up delivering an amazing action climax at the end of the movie, but I would have liked to have seen more sprinkled throughout.


Pro: Visuals (+6pts)

Live by Night was visually stunning. From the wardrobe to the incredible sets and lighting, this movie just looked incredible. When the story was set in Boston, the the filmmakers used cool and dark tones for the lighting, which was mixed with colorless clothes and scenery. This made the city feel cold and dangerous—which it clearly was at that time. This was then completely different when the story was set in Florida.

In Florida, the colors were bright and the lighting made felt warm, which gave this part of the story a sense of hope, but Joe's lifestyle was still dangerous, so you it still felt like danger could be lurking around any corner. This movie just looked great. I honestly think that any and every scene of this movie would make a great poster or wallpaper. It was visually interesting, which made it a pleasant movie to look at.


Cons: Transitions & Wide Shots (-4pts)

This was kind of related to my last issue with the movie, but this movie was filled with long, drawn-out transition scenes that consisted of wide shots that showed the scenery while transitioning between scenes. The filmmakers gave us rising action and more rising action, then all of a sudden there would be a wide shot of an old school car driving on a bridge surrounded by scenery—which was admittedly stunning. To make these scenes even worse, they were set to the sound of Ben Affleck narrating a bunch of seemingly major plot points. These transition scenes started to get kind of annoying.

It felt like I was at a friends house watching a great movie, but every few scenes, when it felt like things were about to do down, this friend would fast forward through a bunch of interesting scenes while describing to me what had happened in those scenes. It got a little annoying, because I kind of wanted to see those things as they happened! It was a weird call by the filmmakers. While the setting of the transition scenes looked great visually, they were disruptive to the pace of the movie and robbed me from seeing some interesting things play out on screen.

Grading Scale


Grade: B- (82pts)

Overall, Live by Night was a good movie. It was filled with compelling storytelling, as well as incredible visuals and great action. Its major issue was how much the filmmakers tried to cram into one movie, which resulted in some other issues (such as the annoying transition sequences, and the filmmakers' trend to avoid action). I honestly think that this movie would have been much better if it was a two-part film or even a limited television series.

The filmmakers just tried to squeeze too much of the main character’s life into the movie. They then wasted precious screen-time focusing on the gorgeous sets and visuals through the transition scenes. There was an interesting story here, but by trying to fit too much in one movie, the filmmakers ended up not being able to flesh things out properly. It was not a bad movie. I actually thought it was a decent movie, but also thought that it was missing the impact that these characters deserved.


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