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Review: Live by Night – “I wanted it to be longer”

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Live by Night isn’t going to sit particularly well with regular cinema goers, I fear. It’s compromised and ambitious, while unforgiving audiences are going to be confused and bored in equal measures. Sprawling ambition ain’t welcome, here. This is 2017. And we don’t know what we want.

It’s both slow, and ponderous – and choppy, and disjointed. All at the same glorious time.

I loved it.

I literally wanted to do a screening of ‘Untouchables’ and ‘Road to Perdition’ straight after. Not because it reminded me of better films. They just don’t make them like this anymore. It’s proper adult cinema. I think we’re at a tipping point, as audiences. We’ve got some decisions to make. We’ve become petulant. And worse… hypocritical.

We say we’re bored of Marvel releasing similar films, year on year – but we miss the fact they’re films based on comics. Comics that literally come out weekly.

Try something bold and different? ‘Dr Strange’, say? Too bold. Too different.

I’m trying to actively avoid mentioning ‘Suicide Squad’, but it’s too good an example not to.

Try something different? Fuck you. It’s too different. And it has a vortex at the end. Which is OK in ‘Avengers’, but not here. Too vortexy.

We say films like ‘Allied‘ are too slow. Too adult. Even though it came out with little fan fare (literally), and we could take it and leave it.

*stomps feet* “But it wasn’t the film *I* wanted it to be’l

We say this. We say that.

Actually, I don’t say that at all. I side with the little guy, whenever possible. I actively look for films that are rejected unreasonably, and I back their corner. It probably started my obsession with some of my all time favourites, now I think about it. ‘Enemy Mine’ and ‘Big Trouble In Little China’, to name a few. Cult classics.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re not perfectly crafted bits of cinema. They’re not Scorcese good, but ‘Live by Night’ is perfect fodder for people to fall into the worst trap of all…. being a massive hypocrite.

The ones that say taking your helmet off on an alien planet is inexcusable, lazy screen writing. But that list ‘Alien’ (where he sticks his flipping head INTO an alien egg!) as one of their favourites. It’s OK though. He kept his helmet on. Rolling eyes emoji, man.

We’ve become lazy and hypocritical. I’m not sure what people want anymore.

When I think of Affleck’s previous, I actually think ‘Argo’ is his most overrated. Don’t get me wrong. The fact it got him in from the cold, and made him a Hollywood darling again is good enough for me. Yet what I want from a film from him is exactly what he gives me in ‘Live by Night’.

I guarantee now the Extended Cut will rival ‘The Town’ for me. I don’t say that lightly. That’s an outstanding film.

Surely anyone can see the good here? The way it’s shot. The way it’s measured and ambitious. The way Affleck makes me feel I was born in the wrong era. The way I’ll try and get away with braces with my suit, tomorrow. The fact I googled how much fedoras are.

It’s gorgeous looking. But so was ‘Allied’. People don’t seem to care about that, anymore. The craft that’s gone into it is irrelevant to most.

They want to know why Affleck thinks it’s OK to start with a montage of gang warfare to rival the montage at the end of ‘Goodfellas’ – only to slow things right down.

Wait…. Roosevelt? What year is it?!

Affleck then moves the story out of Boston, and down to Florida, and Miami. Wait…. this is different…. can’t it be more like ‘Public Enemy’ but less shit? (I loved that too, to be fair. Important context, I fear).

But why has he done it? So he can shoot the Everglades in a pink hue – or because he wants to effectively tell the story of America growing from the Wild West into what we know and love (?) now.

Because, in many respects, this isn’t a gangster film at all, really. At heart, it’s a western. And by god to Affleck has a western in him. He understands America. He seems fascinated by it – especially here. It’s about finding America – and what timing for that. This film is relevant.

It says as much about money and the economy as the hugely underrated ‘Killing Them Softly’ does. (They’d make a cracking double bill, actually).

There’s a bit where the plot diverts into a war with the KKK. Initially I thought “what the fu….”, then he reins it back in. Makes it relevant. Makes it about America. Then, and now. Sure, you can see where he’s compromised, and cut down. Where he’s had to trim. Curtail. And it’s frustrating. I get it. I’m a bit frustrated too, in some ways.

I wanted it to be longer. More ponderous. More of curious spanking Elle Fanning scenes that we probably shouldn’t be witnessing. I wanted more montages, too. More violence. More swearing. More of the race war. More of Sienna and Zoe. More of Brendan Gleason. God. What a cast.

Poor Scott Eastwood, eh? There’s a pattern emerging.

Would I rather a compromised cut of ‘Live by Night’ is the first film I see of 2017, rather than no cut at all? God, yeah. (Silence is tomorrow – don’t panic).

Is it likely to be a film Tarantino throws out as one of his surprise favourites of 2017? Along with ‘Lone Ranger’ and ‘Internship’ in recent years? Almost certainly. And that’s good enough for me.

Never stop fighting until the fight is done. Here endeth the lesson.

Live by Night opens on 13th January 2016.

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