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Movie Review: “Live by Night”

Updated on August 26, 2019
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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 again. Once he returns to Boston, he becomes an outlaw/criminal/gangster and as a result, gains some powerful allies and enemies. He then takes his skills to Florida, where he leads a branch of the Italian mob during the prohibition. He finds himself head-to-head Ku Klux Klan and some powerful enemies when his history catches up with him.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

The Pros
The Cons
Plot (+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: Plot (+8pts)

There was so much to the plot to this movie. So much intrigue and so many interesting plot points. I loved all of it, from Boston to Florida. I liked seeing the rivalry of the Italian and Irish mobs and how Joe Coughlin fit into that. I liked seeing how Joe Coughlin and his father Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson) got along, considering Thomas was a reputable member of Boston Law Enforcement. I can't remember his exact position but I thought that relationship was 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's so much to this movie. I do not want to get into it in detail to avoid spoilers, but believe me, there are a lot of interesting plot points along Joe Coughlin's journey.


Con: Too Much (-5pts)

Did I say that there is "so much" to this movie? While that helps the movie in certain ways, 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 is 2 hours and 9 minutes, but to me, it easily felt like 3 hours. The first hour or so tells the story of Joe Coughlin's life in Boston, Massachusetts. This was the first movie. The second movie tells the story of Joe Coughlin's rise to power in Florida during the prohibition. The movie crams so much plot into a 2 hour slot, but because of the pacing (see the "Transitions & Wide Shots" Con later on) it just felt like a really long movie. I felt as though this movie would have been better as a TV series (which is coincidental that I just said the same thing about Patriots Day) or split into two two-hour movies.


Pro: Mob Action (+6pts)

The mob action in this movie was really fun to watch. We have old school cars, and pistols as well as classic mob Tommy guns and shotguns. This movie has some violent moments with some stunning action sequences. While I could have used more of it (see the next con point "Tease"), I thought that the action in this movie was great. The climax of the film, specifically, is an absolute blast. Tons of mobsters and gangsters in an all out war. If you are a fan of mob movies and this kind of action, Live by Night will not disappoint.


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 story gives build up and build up then when the action starts, we get a montage and narration from Ben Affleck as he tells us what happened. It was as if, the filmmakers gave us story, story and more story then a tiny sample of action to keep the audience's thirst barely satisfied, with the sole purpose of delivering an amazing action climax at the end of the film. That thought process is fine but it needs to be executed more subtly, the narration/montage sequences made it feel a little too obvious.


Pro: Visuals (+6pts)

Live by Night was visually stunning. From the wardrobe to the incredible sets and camera lighting, this movie looked incredible. When the story is in Boston, the camera lighting uses cool and dark tones which was mixed with colorless clothes and scenery. This made the city feel cold and dangerous (which it clearly was at that time). Then fast forward to the story while in Florida. The colors were bright, the lighting and color tones were warm which made this part of the story have a sense of hope, yet at the same time, danger could surface around any corner. It seemed like any and every scene of this movie would make a great poster or wallpaper or be printed and framed into a work of art.


Cons: Transitions & Wide Shots (-4pts)

This point is kind of related to the "Tease" point I made earlier but this movie is FILLED with transition scenes and wide shots. The movie would give rising action and rising action then all of a sudden there would be a wide shot of an old school car driving on a bridge surrounded by beautiful scenery to the sound of Ben Affleck narrating a bunch of seemingly major plot points. These transition scenes started to get kind of annoying as it felt like I was at a friends house watching a great ten hour movie, but every few scenes this friend fast forwarded through a bunch of scenes and told me what happened. It got a little annoying because...I kind of wanted to see those things as they happened!

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. It's major issue was how much plot was crammed into the movie, which resulted in some other issues such as the action teases and the annoying transition sequences. I honestly think, this movie would have been much better served as a two-part film or even a limited TV series.

The filmmakers just tried to squeeze too much of the main character’s life into the movie. They then wasted precuous screentime focusing on the gorgeous sets and visuals. There was interesting story here, but by not giving the character development proper focus, the film ends up feeling a bit hollow. It is not a bad movie, but it is missing the impact that these characters needed.


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