Ben Affleck is one of my very favorite film directors, an artist with a distinctive, impressive style (that is on grand display in his previous films “Argo,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “The Town”). His latest effort is the bloated, big screen adaptation of Dennis Lehane‘s crime novel “Live By Night.” And it is a disappointing, chaotic mess. The movie looks gorgeous but not quite good enough to completely carry the rest of the familiar story.
There’s an overwhelmingly arrogant, stuffy feeling that surrounds the entire project. The sprawling movie is unfocused and aimless, with mediocre performances from his horribly miscast actors (including Zoe Saldana as a Cuban love interest, Elle Fanning as a drugged-out ingénue who finds Jesus, and the unbelievably irritating Sienna Miller as a top gangster’s gal who speaks with a grating Irish accent).
Affleck himself seems divided into two halves: half of his onscreen acting scenes are good and the other half are terrible, and his performance is more than a little distracting. It’s the same thing with his direction: for every handsome, sweeping camera movement, there’s an oddly abrupt fadeout. It’s as if a split personality Affleck acted in and directed this movie. Just like its figurehead, the movie has no clear vision and rambles on and on and on — but somehow the story still manages to feel meagerly thin.
I will say this: Affleck has an incredible eye for directing, especially when it comes to thrilling car chases and elaborate, showy shootouts. These scenes are expertly crafted and choreographed in “Live By Night,” and there’s no denying his eye-popping visual style. Add to that the stunning costumes and impressively detailed set design and it’s impossible not to be wowed by the sheer visual beauty of this film.
Unfortunately, the movie quickly gets lost among every other crime drama from the last 30 years. There’s just nothing special enough about it to make it notable or even memorable. “Live By Night” isn’t rotten, it’s simply forgettable.