Unless And They All Peed Together: The Donald Trump Story is written and filmed faster than a hot-mic whisper to Billy Bush, Live By Night should be the worst movie released in 2017. Arrogant to a fault, nonchalantly bigoted and flat-out boring as shit, Ben Affleck’s gangster odyssey is as bad as any film can possibly be. Having started his directorial career with three exceptional movies, Affleck’s “hold my beer” moment feels like he crammed four bad flicks into the space of one.
Although dissecting roadkill feels a bit serial killer-y, let’s split Live By Night into its four movies.
Movie one: Joe (Ben Affleck), who dresses like he’s cosplaying a Zoot Suit Riot, is a former WWI soldier. We discover this in the first of Affleck’s 6,342 voice overs. His take-home message from the war wasn’t “killing is icky” but “I don’t wanna work for nobody.” So he takes to robbing banks and falls for a mob boss’s gal (Sienna Miller). When the boss finds out, he gets beat up and is only saved by his cop dad (Brendan Gleeson), who negotiates a deal to keep him in prison only briefly.
Movie two: Joe, who dresses in gaudy suspenders he insists on exposing in every goddamn scene, falls in with an Italian mobster who hires him to run bootlegging operations in Florida. There, he meets a nice lady (Zoe Saldana) and runs afoul of the KKK. Gangsters have to square off against the Klan for supremacy of the state.
Movie three: Joe, who dresses in the most ridiculous series of fedoras ever fedora-ed, is the head of bootlegging in Florida. He becomes wary of the upcoming legalization of booze, so he begins trying to build a casino and legalize gambling. A former heroin addict (Elle Fanning) turns into a religious zealot and whips up the Christian community to defeat Joe’s gambling push.
Movie four: Joe, who dresses in a button-down shirt during a sex scene because Affleck (the director) yearns to conceal the saggy manflesh of Affleck (the actor), is ready to overthrow the shackles of “old world” gangsters with accents and establish a new, more decent American mafia. So he gets into a big shootout in a mansion.
Throughout all of the shitty movies that make up Live By Night, the constant is a horrifyingly crude depiction of women. Miller is “the whore.” Fanning is “the virgin.” And Saldana is “the mother.” It’s a misogyny trifecta! Affleck also positions white men as equal victims of KKK trauma, uses every antiquated racial slur ever invented (often one right after the other) and triumphantly brags about checking off two ethnicities on his “sexual conquest bingo” card at once.
Let no one call Live By Night unwatchable. Instead, let it be shown to every douchey, arrogant white filmmaker dude itching to ape Scorsese without putting in the work or possessing the talent. Let it be mandatory education for blockbuster actors relentlessly self-assured in their artistry. Let it be the cautionary tale of what happens to young directors drunk on the press of a fledgling filmography. Just don’t ever make me watch it again.
This review previously appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.