Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
Sun-Times Film Critic Gene Siskel liked to ask, "Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?" He would have been able to find out with "Project Greenlight," the behind-the-scenes cable television series. One winning screenplay a year is chosen to be produced by Miramax, and HBO airs a documentary series about the making of the movie, so that we can eavesdrop on the arguments, brainstorms, disagreements and tantrums of the makers--and on their lunches.
"Stolen Summer" (2002), the first of the "Greenlight" movies, passed Siskel's test. It was a lovely coming-of-age story about a friendship between two Chicago kids during the last summer of one of their lives. "The Battle of Shaker Heights," the second "Greenlight" movie, fails the test. I have actually had lunch with two of the actors--Elden Henson and Kathleen Quinlan--and that was a lot more interesting than the movie.
It's one of those stories where a formula is juiced up with stuff we don't expect, like the teenage hero's hobby of fighting in re-enactments of famous battles. There's also a doomed infatuation with his best friend's college-age sister, which leads to him becoming a part-time honorary member of the friend's family. He finds it exquisitely painful to be in love with the sister, who likes to have him around because he's smart and cute, and doesn't take his puppy love seriously.
The hero is Kelly (Shia LaBeouf, the young lead of "Holes"), and he's the brightest kid in his high school, smart enough to correct his teacher during a class, but not smart enough to know that's a pretty dumb thing to do. His new friend is Bart (Henson), and they meet when Kelly saves Bart's life, sort of, in a virtual kind of way.