Tag Archives: dennis lehane

Live by Night – Review

26 Jan

When it comes to movies he’s written and directed, Ben Affleck’s track record is one of the strongest in recent years. Movies like The TownGone Baby Gone, and Argo have enough intensity and depth to be remembered a hundred times over. When I saw his next project, Live by Night, was going to be a Prohibition era gangster movie, I was good to go. I’ve been looking forward to this movie after seeing the very first trailer for it months ago, and I felt even more hopeful when I saw that it was based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the novel Gone Baby Gone. Now, while there are plenty of really great things in this movie that are worth mentioning and getting excited about, Live by Night is probably the weakest entry in Affleck’s directing filmography.

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Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a World War I veteran who makes his small living through crime as a thief. He’s also madly in love with a woman named Emma (Sienna Miller), the wife of his boss and and head of the Irish Gang of Boston, Albert White (Robert Glenister). After this affair almost gets him killed and results in him losing Emma, Joe joins forces with Italian mafia boss and enemy of White Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone). Pescatore sends Joe to the Ybor City in Florida to help run his rum importing business that is being threatened by White. While in Florida, Joe falls in love and marries Graciela (Zoe Saldana), who is a major component of the importing business. Not everything goes smoothly however as rival factions, a tragic run in with the local sheriff and his daughter (Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning), and the looming danger of the Ku Klux Klan threaten this entire business, which forces Joe to become the violent man he never wanted to be again.

I have really mixed feelings about this movie that came up as I was writing the summary. It reminded me the biggest flaw that this movie has, and that is that there is so much crammed into a run time that barely has the ability to hold it all. There is around 3 and a half hours worth of material here that’s forced to fit in a movie that’s only a little bit over 2 hours. This makes for some weird pacing, plot lines that don’t get enough attention, and some characters that unfortunately lack enough development. Let’s start with the pacing of the movie. A lot of times when someone’s talking about the pace of a movie, they’re going to say how slow it felt. On the flip side of that, I felt like Live by Night went way too fast. There was a part in the middle where it slowed down to a crawl, but then picked up so fast I thought it was going to break my neck. This is what happens when there are at least five different main plots happening in a movie.

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Let’s look at the positives for a bit because this movie does have very cool elements. Affleck has shown us time and again that he is capable of filming a beautiful looking movie, and Live by Night holds up to that standard. The color pallets and sweeping camera work got the better of me at times and I just had to watch in awe at how amazing everything looked. This also a movie with incredible sound design. Every gunshot felt authentic and blasted through the theater’s sound system for optimal escapist effect. Speaking of sounds, Harry Gregson-Williams’ score is absolutely fantastic. Finally, this movie handles violence in a very interesting way that I’ve been seeing more in movies as of late. The violence is strong but the scenes of it are few and far between. Instead of making the violence look cinematic and fake, there’s this realism to it that really hit me as I was watching it, and reminded me a lot of how Affleck handled it in The Town.

While that’s all well and good and does make the movie memorable in its own right, I still can’t help shake the fact that as time has gone on I’ve become less and less impressed by this movie. A big reason is because of the characterization and how the people in the movie develop. My biggest example of this is the relationship between Joe and Graciela. It has the potential to be a great cinematic romance, but it unfortunately isn’t explored enough and the events of their life jut kind of happen and then time moves on because there is so much left to cover. The same can be said about Joe’s partner in the movie. We briefly see him in the first third, then he’s reintroduced, but their relationship doesn’t really have a chance to go anywhere either.

I’ve been so excited for Live by Night, it kinda hurts to say that it disappointed me. It’s a beautiful looking movie with a great score and sound design. There’s also plenty of great actors giving quality performances. The problem is that so much is crammed into the movie that some plots are wasted and characters fail to develop fully which lessens the dramatic impacts of some scenes. I really wanted Live by Night to be great, but it’s a movie that fails to live to its fullest potential and I’m not sure I have any reason to see it again.

Final Grade: C+

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Gone Baby Gone – Review

25 Jun

Ben Affleck’s career has had plenty of ups and downs. As far as acting goes, he hasn’t really established himself as a critical success. Sure, he’s been in a lot of blockbuster movies, but a lot have been critically panned. As far as a writer and director, he has had much better luck, most recently with his Academy Award winning film Argo. His directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, is also a deeply moving film with incredible characters, stunning realism, and powerful decisions where there may not actually be a morally decent choice.

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In a close knit neighborhood of Boston, four year old Amanda McCready is kidnapped, causing a media circus. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are hired to work in unison with a police task force run by Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman). Along with Detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton), the private investigators dig deeper and deeper into the seedy underworld of the neighborhood in order to find out who and why has this young girl. As more secrets are uncovered, Patrick and his team learn that Amanda’s mother Helene (Amy Ryan) has more enemies and vices that she originally led everyone to believe, putting all involved in finding the girl in a much more hopeless and dangerous situation.

A style that Affleck seems to use with great skill is one that can almost be compared to Italian Neo-Realism. Everything looks very natural and real. Now, calling Gone Baby Gone a work of Neo-Realism would be very farfetched, but there are small comparisons. For one, many extras and smaller character roles are simply neighborhood residents that were chosen to be in the movie. Also, many interior shots look naturally lit and dim. These aesthetic choices puts the viewer into the environment of the city so deeply that everything seems more close and intimate. In a story that involves such real elements as the kidnapping of young children, family turmoil, and pedophilia, it’s much more effective to give the environment a more realistic look. That, and this entire film was shot on location. Affleck did the same thing in his later film, The Town, which also gives the viewer the pleasure of being thrust directly into the mise-en-scène.

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As for the more accomplished actors, all of the performances are spot on. Casey Affleck, as always, delivers a wonderfully in depth performance as a a troubled man, torn between different versions of morality. Michelle Monaghan, who isn’t in much of the movie, gives a solid performance as well that is on par with Casey’s depth. When the two are together, the chemistry feels perfect adding a layers to their history, which we unfortunately don’t know much about. The performance that seems to stand out, however, is Amy Ryan who was actually thought to be a Boston native on the set, and wasn’t allowed in. She is so deep into her character that it never feels like you’re watching an actor perform. That’s the real test of a professional actor, and she succeeds very, very well.

To connect Gone Baby Gone with Neorealism one more time, the characters of this movie are the lower and middle class workers who are just trying to survive with what was given to them. Relating to these people is easy, even though some of them don’t quite reflect the better side of society. They all seem like average people, even the characters played by more recognizable actors. The theme also doesn’t provide much hope for everyone. A characteristic of Neorealism is the feeling of being little in a much bigger world, and the inability to not really change the bigger picture. In Gone Baby Gone, the viewer notices this in the characters. As much as everyone tries, the problems just keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s a movie with very little hope, despite all of the efforts.

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Some may call this a depressing movie, and they would be right. It is. By the end, you find yourself asking more questions than when the conflict was originally presented, but not about the plot, but about your own morality and what is really right and wrong. The heroes and villains in this movie are not definite, save for a few particular characters who are downright dreadful. The questions asked in this movie are not easy and the controversial subject matter is difficult to stomach at times, but Ben Affleck and his cast and crew have created an undeniably moving piece of cinema that should be required viewing. It shows a dark, but all too real side of life that can not be ignored.