by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
Adam: Welcome to "Reserved Seating." I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: Live by Night is the fourth directorial effort from the multi-talented Ben Affleck and his second adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel.
Rob: It tells the story of Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a Prohibition-era (era) stick-up man caught between warring mafia families in Boston. After running afoul of Irish boss Albert White (Robert Glenister), Coughlin renounces his vow of neutrality and joins up with rival Italian boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone), who sends him and his partner Dion (Chris Messina) to supervise their rum smuggling operations in Florida. Coughlin then faces-off with corrupt cops, the KKK, and an assortment of other threats vying to bring him down.
Adam: In this clip (), Affleck and Messina discuss partnership terms with a Cuban faction in Tampa, which includes Zoe Saldana, who later develops to be a new love interest for our lead. Live by Night has a lot of scenes like this one of people talking while Ben Affleck seems like he is either just waking up or falling asleep.
Rob: I like this scene. It makes it seem as though Live by Night has real interpersonal conflicts and dramatic stakes. It’s one of two or three in the whole film.
Adam: For a movie with so many characters, there is very little development to any of them. The movie starts out somewhat disappointingly based on Affleck’s previous directorial efforts (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo), but at a certain point Live By Night became clearer to me and I found myself enjoying it for what it is - a trashy gangster movie like Mobsters or Hoodlum. The trouble is that my expectations were initially set higher because of Affleck’s previous directing pedigree. I had a lot of fun watching Live by Night, maybe even more the nuttier it got. It feels almost like an entirely different film in each and every scene. By the time Chris Cooper is shooting two guns and screaming “Repent! Repent!” like a 10th billed actor in a Wild West show, I was laughing out loud and having a pretty great time. I can’t say Live by Night is a success, but I may have enjoyed this movie more than anyone else on Earth.
Rob: Well, here it is. Our first fight. You absolutely enjoyed Live by Night more than I did. It’s a tonal disaster, like you said. A big, sprawling gangster epic has to have a strong handle on who these characters are, what they’re doing, and why we should care. This film was frankly just grating and boring, and I say that as a lifelong Affleck apologist. I really think he missed the mark on this one.
Adam: I don’t know if we’re going to have as big of a fight as you think because I don’t disagree with any of what you said, except for maybe that it’s boring. I did have a beer and some boneless buffalo wings before the movie, so maybe that factored into my enjoyment of Live by Night. Did you find it distracting that Ben Affleck was so damn wide that he looked like he barely fit on-screen? Talk about period-inappropriate. He looked like CrossFit Corleone.
Rob: Now that you mention it, my experience may have been ruined by the couple in my theater who were talking literally at full volume the entire film. It made it really hard to focus on whatever the hell Brendan Gleeson was saying half the time. As for Affleck, I honestly think he miscast himself in this role. He’s a forty-year-old man built to smash people with toilet seats and yet I’m supposed to relate to him as the scrappy upstart? It would have been nice to have seen his character built up through some backstory involving the war or a few more bits with the Brendan Gleeson character. There’s this thematic interest in “changing who you are” that might have been nicely served there.
Adam: Every interaction Gleeson has with Affleck in the movie is basically “You’re a garbage person but I’m not going to do anything about it. See you Sunday!”
Rob: How about that dinner scene where he tells Sienna Miller, “If my son likes you, you must be horrible!” Thanks, Dad!
The Accountant from last year.
Rob: You know that isn’t fair. The Accountant has Anna Kendrick, so I’m beholden to it. Anyway, yeah, Affleck definitely seems overwhelmed here. Again, the classic gangster formula: You’ve got all these moving parts and fun characters, but they never intersect or affect each other to create meaningful change in the people involved. Without getting into spoilers, this film could have used fewer female characters whose mandates were “stand around,” and more with something to actually do. I liked Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning a lot, but they barely had any scenes together. And we never get to see what actually changes Affleck’s character because all we know about him is that he’s built like a brick shithouse, he’s very sleepy, and he loves him some Zoe Saldana. I couldn’t understand him, so I couldn’t understand the film. Anyway, what did you think of the whole KKK subplot? That scene in the cigar factory with the Grand Wizard guy was my one moment of joy in the whole picture. We should have had a lot more fun with that thread.
Adam: I didn’t have a problem with it. They’re portrayed as detestable and a lot of them get killed. I was satisfied.
Rob: “A lot of people got killed...I was satisfied.” -- Adam Riske, F This Movie!
Adam: You bet I was. Also, don’t misquote me…some of the words were wrong. Slap your hand with the ruler I gave you.
Rob: Speaking of slapping, the whole Elle Fanning subplot with the religion stuff is a perfect example of how Affleck’s development of his own character really fails. Like at the coffee shop: she’s sharing all these deep existential feelings that are supposed to pivot his character or introduce something new, but it’s hard to tell at any given time what particular conflict he’s feeling pressure from because he refuses to emote or, you know, say and do things. I had no idea where his head was at or what I was supposed to feel.
Adam: He’s sleepy from CrossFit.
Rob: Those giant tires on chains aren’t going to pull themselves.
Rob: My love for Ben Affleck is secondary to my responsibility to the public, Adam. Mark Off.
Adam: Every part of me says “vote Mark Off.” To hell with it. “Mark Ahn” for Live by Night. It’s not one of my favorite Ben Affleck roles or movies, but I admire the guy and I’m more with this one than not.
Rob: That’s the spirit. Live free or die hard, dammit.
Adam: I loved that in the last 10 minutes of Live by Night it could have ended on any scene and it would have made just as much thematic sense as any other.
Rob: But we needed to pay off that subplot with his brother that was apparently happening in the movie! And the chess board because symbolism! Maybe he was just so sleepy he didn’t realize he left all that in. Because of all the CrossFit. Alright, I’ll stop.
Adam: Join us next week as I try to get my critical bearings back and we review Split, the latest thriller from M. Night Shyamalan starring James McAvoy.
Rob: I’m still never sure if it’s cool to like M. Night Shyamalan again or not.
Adam: He’s made some bad movies but also some great ones. We should give him the benefit of the doubt. Until next time…
Rob: These seats are reserved.