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Live by Night Blu-ray Review

Live by Night (2016) movie poster Live by Night

Theatrical Release: December 23, 2016 / Running Time: 129 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Ben Affleck / Writers: Dennis Lehane (novel); Ben Affleck (screenplay)

Cast: Ben Affleck (Joe Coughlin), Elle Fanning (Loretta Figgis), Remo Girone (Maso Pescatore), Brendan Gleeson (Thomas Coughlin), Robert Glenister (Albert White), Matthew Maher (RD Pruitt), Chris Messina (Dion Bartolo), Sienna Miller (Emma Gould), Miguel J. Pimentel (Esteban Suarez), Zoe Saldana (Graciela), Chris Cooper (Chief Ray Figgis), Titus Welliver (Tim Hickey), Max Casella (Digger Pescatore), Christian Clemenson (Ritz Investor), JD Evermore (Virgil Beauregard), Clark Gregg (Calvin Bondurant), Anthony Michael Hall (Gary L. Smith), Chris Sullivan (Brennan Loomis), Benjamin Ciaramello (Paulo Bartolo), Derek Mears (Donnie Gishler)

Buy Live by Night from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

Ben Affleck drew criticism repeatedly in 2016 for the films Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and The Accountant.
On those, all of which enjoyed some degree of commercial success, Affleck could pass the blame to his directors and writers, for he was only acting in them. Live by Night, however, employs Affleck as producer, director, lone screenwriter, and star. When this one was attacked by critics, the leading man expectedly received no less than the lion's share of the blame.

Affleck has had greater success as a director than as a star. His first two directorial credits -- 2007's Gone Baby Gone starring his brother Casey and 2010's The Town starring himself -- received widespread acclaim. His third, Argo (2012), won the industry's highest honor, the Oscar for Best Picture, defying history to do so with its helmer surprisingly unnominated for the Best Director award.

Hats are plentiful for Ben Affleck and Chris Messina in the period gangster drama "Live by Night."

In Live by Night, Affleck brings a Dennis Lehane novel to the screen. Lehane's writings have lent to powerful films, not only Affleck's aforementioned debut Gone Baby Gone, but also Mystic River, The Drop, and Shutter Island. Most of those were contemporary crime dramas set in the Boston area (Drop relocated the proceedings to Brooklyn) and featuring working class types (as was the Lehane-esque The Town). In the 2012 source novel, Lehane stretched himself with a crime drama set primarily during Prohibition, the 1920s.

Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, the son of an Irish immigrant police chief (Brendan Gleeson). Joe finds himself reluctantly drawn into the gangster life after more recent immigrant Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), the girlfriend he shares with an Irish mob boss (Robert Glenister), is killed and Coughlin is sentenced to a few years in prison for the death of police officers following a heist. After serving his time, Joe gets a job working for the area's Italian mob boss (Remo Girone) that sends him down to Tampa to oversee deals with Cubans involving the sale of alcohol and the proceeds of nightclubs.

With his Italian friend Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) by his side, Joe gets acclimated with the gangster life, agreeing to terms with the local sheriff (Chris Cooper) and forging deals with other figures, whether it's muscling out or assigning a cut of the action. The film mostly follows Joe through this criminal life, although he also falls in love with a Cuban woman (Zoe Saldana) and gets involved in the recovery of the sheriff's teenaged daughter (Elle Fanning), who gets mixed up with heroin out in Los Angeles only to return and have her strengthened Christian faith stand in the way of Joe's criminal activities.

Zoe Saldana plays Graciela, a Cuban business associate and the most focal love interest of Joe Coughlin in "Live by Night."

Live by Night is not anywhere near as rich and compelling as Affleck's first three films
or the four prior Lehane adaptations for that matter. Perhaps that should have been obvious when Live by Night was marketed as a January release, its awards-qualifying opening seemingly more a kind formality than a real display of confidence or calculated strategy. Warner Bros. Pictures' little-documented string of Best Picture Oscar nominees ended suddenly in 2016-17, with Sully settling for a single sound nomination and Live by Night not even featuring in any of the technical categories that are usually tailor-made for slick, year-end period fare.

Judged as a January movie, Live by Night is much better than average. It's not the all-out mess that the studio's similarly timed and themed Gangster Squad was. It is about on the order of Michael Mann's middling Public Enemies, a film more impressive technically than dramatically. Live also earns that label, more likely to catch your eye with its big colorful suits and hats, gunfire sounds, stately production design, and sometimes sumptuous cinematography than with the acting and characterization of Affleck and company.

It shows occasional promise as a drama, with monologues on morality and the afterlife. But Affleck never wins you over with his protagonist nor gets you to sympathize with any one of the plot lines he treads, from business endeavors to marriage to revenge. It all looks pretty good and has a luster that you could never get from a less skilled director and a smaller budget. But it's still often a mindless diversion, a mere notch or two above the inanity that was The Accountant.

Striking out with critics and awards organizations was surely disappointing, but Live by Night's biggest failure of all may have been its inability to attract paying moviegoers. The film grossed a measly $10 million domestic and $11 million aboard, making almost all of its $65 M production budget lost. The poor showing does seem to have put Affleck's career and working relationship with Warner in some doubt, with the actor already bowing out of directing himself in The Batman.

Wasting no time, Warner brought the film to DVD and Blu-ray in separate editions last Tuesday, barely two months after the film's disastrous 11th place wide opening in nearly 3,000 theaters.

Live by Night Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
7.1 Dolby Atmos/True HD (English), 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service, French, Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 21, 2017
Suggested Retail Price: $28.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($28.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though highly prone to dramatic criticism, Live by Night is pretty polished technically, and Warner's Blu-ray doesn't disappoint presenting the film in any way. The 2.40:1 picture is stylized, crisp, and satisfying. Warner takes the unusual step of offering both a Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 mix and a selected-by-default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track. Either way, you get a dynamic experience, full of life and directional effects. The film may be more valuable to some as demo material than as a stimulating film.

Sienna Miller discusses her character Emma Gould in the featurette "Angels with Dirty Faces." Author Dennis Lehane opens up about being unable to write for an audience and being intolerant of racism.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with "Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night" (8:54) analyzes
the film's three focal women and the actresses who play them.

In the same vein, "Good Guys and Bad Guys: The Men of Live by Night" (8:30) moves through the cast, considering the characters of Affleck, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Remo Girone, and Robert Glenister.

"Live by Night's Prolific Author" (6:53) lets Dennis Lehane discuss his writing and the adaptation of it, while others celebrate him.

"In Close-Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase" (7:35) focuses on the filming of the film's big car chase mostly in terms of technically staging it.

"In Close-Up" takes us behind the scenes of the film's classic car chase. Scott Eastwood plays Joe's stuntman brother in this deleted scene.

A long reel of deleted scenes (15:56) presents an extended opening, more Sienna Miller, and a cemetery scene and wake aftermath with a visit from Joe's brother (an otherwise-missing Scott Eastwood) who has been working in the "flickers" out in California.
The lot can also be viewed with commentary by Ben Affleck, though he doesn't shed a whole lot of light on why many of they were cut.

Finally, there is an audio commentary over the whole film by Affleck, production designer Jess Gonchor, and cinematographer Robert Richardson. Their remarks remain screen-specific throughout, informing us regarding how and where they were shot or edited, with Affleck letting some points on dramatic intent emerge. Among topics covered are that Affleck would have softened some of the political stuff if he knew the film would be releasing following a Trump victory, having to tone down historically accurate prostitute makeup for audiences, and having dialogue hint at, but not utter, the titular phrase.

The disc opens with a trailer for Kong: Skull Island and a relevant anti-smoking ad.

The static menu adapts the cover art with a greenish tint (seen more in pictures than the actual cover) and 16:9 screen-filling dimensions while score plays for some time.

A Digital HD insert touting Warner's new digital movies app is all that joins the plain black disc inside the unslipcovered eco-friendly keepcase.

A little blood adorns the forehead of Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) following the violent climax of "Live by Night."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Avoided like the plague by the public and completely ignored at awards shows, Live by Night seems to set back Ben Affleck's directing career quite a bit. This gangster drama, an apparent grand slam on paper, disappoints, although it does enough to hold your interest and to impress you on a technical level. Warner's Blu-ray provides a solid feature presentation plus some substantial extras. It might merit a curiosity viewing but there are nearly 100 better movies from last year that are worth seeing before it.

Buy Live by Night from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Manchester by the Sea Silence Moonlight 20th Century Women Allied Doctor Strange Collateral Beauty Patriots Day
Written and Directed by Ben Affleck: Argo Gone Baby Gone | Adapted from Dennis Lehane: The Drop
Ben Affleck: The Accountant Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Suicide Squad Gone Girl The Company Men
Chris Messina: Ruby Sparks Julie & Julia Away We Go | Zoe Saldana: Guardians of the Galaxy The Words
Chris Cooper: Demolition August: Osage County | Elle Fanning: The Neon Demon Maleficent
Sienna Miller: American Sniper Burnt | Gangsters: Dick Tracy Gangster Squad Killing Them Softly Scarface Black Mass

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Reviewed March 26, 2017.



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