Ben Affleck has long been one of Hollywood’s most accomplished actors, garnering two academy awards and three golden globes over the course of his career to date. He is known for time-honored classics like Good Will Hunting (1997), Armageddon (1998), and Pearl Harbor (2001). However, with such an extensive repertoire of behemoth box office hits some of his best performances inevitably get lost in the mix. One of Affleck’s lesser-known films, the crime drama Live By Night (2016), has now found its way to Netflix.
Live By Night is a period film, based on a 2012 book by the same name, and is set in 1926 during the height of prohibition. It follows Irish World War I veteran Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck), the son of police captain Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson), as he embarks on a life of crime in order to run away with the love of his life, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). She also happens to be the prized mistress of the notorious Boston crime mogul Albert White (Robert Glenister). The plot twists rather rapidly. Ben Affleck’s character winds up serving time in prison for his actions, during which time his father passes away. Joe’s release from prison marks the movies’ first integral shift.
The events that transpire before and during Ben Affleck’s character’s prison tenure prompt him to seek revenge against the mob boss, Albert White. He blames White for the untimely deaths of both his father and the woman he loved. Joe Coughlin finds himself aligning with White’s primary rival and moves to Florida to join up with Maso Pescatore in order to adequately execute his revenge. Coughlin’s new life in Florida and his evolution as a ruthless mobster is marked by a series of betrayals, precarious situations, and sultry dialogue that ultimately bring Ben Affleck’s character to an existential nexus, forcing him to digest the ramifications of his choices.
Interest in adapting Dennis Lehane’s novel for film surfaced the same year the book was released when Warner Bros. acquired the rights. Initially, the script was being developed with Leonardo DiCaprio in mind as the lead, with the intention of partnering with his production company, Appian Way. However, ultimately the film was placed into Ben Affleck’s and his production company’s (Pearl Street Films) hands to star, produce and direct.
In addition to Ben Affleck (Joe Coughlin), the film is rounded out by an impressive cast, including Elle Fanning (Loretta Figgis), Sienna Miller (Emma Gould), Zoe Saldana (Graciela), and Brendan Gleeson (Thomas Coughlin). Live By Night began filming in Georgia in October of 2015 and wrapped in California in February of 2016. During the film’s post-production phase Ben Affleck actually commented on the difficulties that he had encountered while he and his team were editing it.
Perhaps Ben Affleck’s comment on the challenges he came across while cutting the film together foreshadowed what would become Live By Night’s abysmal box office performance. It received a domestic limited release on December 25, 2016, and according to Box Office Mojo, was only able to generate a little over $33K in profits. Its initial premiere was followed by a wide release on January 13, 2017, however, the film was only able to gross slightly north of $22.6 million in combined national and international profits.
Reviews for the film have been largely mixed in that many critics have expressed that while they can see Ben Affleck’s ingenuity for storytelling, the film offers nothing new or surprising that would have served to better reel audiences in. For instance, Matt Brunson of Film Frenzy said on Rotten Tomatoes, “There’s nothing inherently wrong with Ben Affleck’s warmed-over plate of gangland goulash – it’s a gorgeous production, meticulously put together by a team of seasoned Hollywood vets – but there’s also little that’s fresh.” David Edelstein of New York Magazine agreed, stating “You probably won’t turn it off when it comes on cable. But the material needs to be bigger, more momentous, as well as more intimate.”
However, Sandra Hall of the Sunday Morning Herald gave Ben Affleck’s film a bit more credit. She admitted it wasn’t in the same vein as other mobster classics, but did note that it was a formidable tribute to Hollywood’s studio age.
“It’s not Goodfellas. It lacks the black humour and the relish for eccentricity for its own sake, and the ending verges on mawkishness. But it’s great entertainment — a cunningly wrought tribute to old-fashioned Hollywood and the Warners style.”Sandra Hall
Live By Night might not be one of Ben Affleck’s most heralding films, however, since its current home is on Netflix, it could serve as a low-stakes opportunity to decide for oneself how the film ultimately fares. Even if crime movies are not one’s forté, fans of Ben Affleck can still look forward to seeing the actor on screen again in one of his most well-received roles to date, one that has even garnered him the nickname “Batfleck”. Ben Affleck will reprise his role as Batman in The Flash (2022) and fans will be pleased to find out that Batman’s rumored fatal fate has possibly been put to rest. In fact, Giant Freakin Robot exclusively learned that Affleck’s Suicide Squad (2016) co-star Jared Leto is heavily vying for him to reprise his role as the caped crusader once more.
Over the years Ben Affleck has proven himself to be a skilled and versatile performer, and whether or not Ben Affleck will return again to don the Bat cape still remains to be seen, but whatever direction he chooses to pursue as his career continues to evolve is sure to be characterized a continuing string of compelling and crowd worthy performances.