Is Live by Night Based on a True Story?

Ben Affleck not only starred in the 2016 crime drama ‘Live by Night,’ but also directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay. The noir-tinted film revolves around a small-time bootlegger and ex-convict who creates a vast crime empire in Ybor City. The movie is a star-studded venture with Elle Fanning, Chris Messina, and Zoe Saldana appearing alongside Affleck. Although the film, unfortunately, received a lukewarm reception from critics and audiences, it still holds merit for fans of Affleck’s work. As the movie is set in a very specific time in history (1926), you may seek to know whether the storyline is tethered to reality. In that case, let us find out!

Is Live by Night Based on A True Story?

No, ‘Live by Night’ is not based on a true story. Ben Affleck directed the movie from his own screenplay, which he developed from Dennis Lehane’s bestselling thriller novel of the same name. The events in this cinematic treat generally follow that of the book. Lehane initially thought that the movie would fail to comment upon the underlying deceitfulness, shame, and modesty that mold the character of Joe Coughlin. However, the test screening cleared his doubt, as he saw that Affleck had done a commendable job bringing out the silences of the original material.

However, the book was 401 pages long, so Affleck took some liberty with the material. The book maintains a tripartite structure – it chronicles Joe Coughlin’s life through his prison years in Boston, then in Ybor City, and finally Cuba. In comparison, the movie almost exclusively follows his time in Ybor City. However, with Affleck securing the gig of David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl,’ production was delayed quite a bit. The movie took about two years to be made, making it one of the longest of all the directorial projects that Affleck has ever worked on.

Making the movie was particularly challenging for Affleck due to manifold reasons. Firstly, Warner Bros. would not let him make a three-hour-long movie, and they necessitated some changes. This put some constraints on the artistic liberties he could take. On the other hand, the actor, director, and screenwriter was reportedly going through a lot in his personal life. You might find it interesting to know that Affleck considered Leonardo DiCaprio for the lead role, but DiCaprio chose to come on board as a producer instead. Adam Driver and Jon Bernthal were both considered, but Affleck decided to shine in his venture.

In addition, there are several other aspects in the film that are far from real, including the snowfall. Apparently, it was added later by CGI, and people seemed to note the realistic touch – how the snow actually lands on the ground and melts after. According to Affleck, the earlier edits were a bit more artificial, but the effects team got their grip on the situation by the time the post-production concluded. Moreover, the movie went through a lot of digital cleanups, with little touches here and there. The porch scene outside the dance hall was filmed using CGI.

Affleck had his moment of epiphany as they were filming a scene involving Klan members in their hooded uniform and a burning arrow. This was when he realized how the real thing must have been. In a national backdrop marred by racial segregation, Ku Klux Klan was a visceral reality. Like the book, the movie spends a significant amount of time providing the viewers with a comprehensive account of the hate group. Taking all these aspects into account, it would be fair to say that the movie rests on solid grounds, even though its narrative is decidedly fictional.

Read More: Live by Night Review