Live by Night is a great old school thriller that feels like it’s out of a different era; while it may have been marketed as a shoot ’em up action flick, it’s actually a quite restrained gangster film about the way crime operates. Despite a slow start, the film quickly comes to focus on the story of Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck), a former soldier who turns to a life of crime in the 1920s and ’30s. It’s an old school story of betrayal, love, and double crossing, but Affleck tells the story that doesn’t throw any unnecessary elements to dramatize the story, while making each scene explode with energy.
Ben Affleck is truly one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation; even the most expository dialogue scenes feature committed actors who understand the material, so when the eventual action scenes hit, they’re all the more impactful. Affleck adds some great philosophical and political ideas to the story, but it never detracts from the gravitas of what feels like a Shakespearean epic. Perhaps its refreshing to see a film that approaches the gangster film in a different way, or maybe it’s Affleck’s brilliant direction, but Live by Night is great fun. Grade: B+