Live by Night (2016)
Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana & Chris Cooper
Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Nearly a decade after making his directorial debut based on Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck brings his trifecta of talent to the gangster-ridden world of Live by Night, cementing his acute instincts in realizing Lehane’s literary works for the big-screen. Refusing to follow orders ever again after serving in World War I, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, The Accountant) returns home to Boston and a new life of crime. While his actions speak otherwise, Joe’s line of business is merely a means to an end unlike the ruthless gangsters who run the corrupt city. After a risky affair pits him in the crosshairs of a mob war, Joe seeks to right his wrongs and extract revenge by relocating to the humid terrain of Tampa to spread rum and gambling during Prohibition. Before long, Joe realizes that every one of his dangerous choices comes at an unexpected price. Returning Affleck to a haven of complicated characters and uniquely wired hoodlums where the auteur thrives, Live by Night is yet another striking achievement in the director’s modest body of work. While Affleck, along with his male costars do what’s expected of them, the performances by Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) as Joe’s Irish femme fatale girlfriend, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) appearing later as Joe’s eventual Cuban wife and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) as a wannabe starlet turned junkie who jeopardizes Joe’s empire while enlightening his morale compass, are diversely electric in their roles.
Finding his operation combatting against disapproving members of the Ku Klux Klan while focusing on abolishing laws against gambling to open a casino, Joe’s opposition to invest in narcotics by order of his Italian mob boss pits him in a battle unlikely to survive. From the gloomy streets of Boston to the sweat pouring speakeasies of Florida, Live by Night is an epic examination of a gangster smarter than his gun who runs the gamut of illegal extremes in hopes of making it out alive to protect those most important to him. Following a myriad of date changes before being dumped to a dead of winter release, Live by Night’s abysmally poor box-performance hardly reflects the film’s exceptional style, cast and swift direction, making it, for better or worse, one of last year’s unfairly overlooked gems.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment presents Live by Night with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. While not a wildly colorful film by any stretch, the transfer thrives through its deeply inky black levels that capitalize during nighttime sequences, dimly lit bars and alleyways. Furthermore, detail is immaculate with textures in the period costumes looking particularly strong. Meanwhile, skin tones maintain a true appearance with finer details found in wrinkles, Fanning’s track marks and the humidity of the Florida setting apparent on foreheads. Equipped with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the softer hushes of Affleck’s narrated bits are crisply relayed while more robust exchanges of dialogue are pristine. Most impressively, the onslaught of gun fire, bar ambiance and the film’s intensely orchestrated car chase sequence all earn the highest of grades. An optional Dolby Atmos mix is also provided for those technically enabled.
Supplementary material includes, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Star Ben Affleck while, Blu-ray exclusive content offers, Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night (8:54) that finds Affleck and Author Dennis Lehane examining the three sections of Joe Coughlin’s life represented by the three female leads with insight from actresses Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Elle Fanning. Additionally, Good Guys and Bad Guys: The Men of Live by Night (8:30) finds Affleck and his costars, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Remo Girane and Robert Glenister reflecting on their roles, Live by Night’s Prolific Author (6:53) hosts Lehane as he shares his inspirations for the novel and their themes with additional insight from Affleck and Producer Jennifer Davisson while, In-Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase (7:35) details the sequence’s development with Affleck, Stunt Coordinator RA Rondell, Director of Photography Robert Richardson, Editor William Goldenberg and Composer Harry Greyson-Williams detailing their essential contributions. Lastly and available also on the film’s separate DVD release, Deleted Scenes (15:56) with optional filmmaker commentary are provided with a Digital HD Code concluding the special feature offerings. Contrary to critical dismissal and low box-office turnout, Live by Night continues Affleck’s remarkable streak behind the camera where an intense examination of a conflicted gangster and the empire he’s built unfolds. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s high-definition treatment is an A/V marvel with a surprisingly well-stocked supply of extras on hand likeminded viewers will appreciate.
Available March 21st from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Live by Night can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.