A Most Violent Year
- January 30, 2015
- J.C. Chandor
- Oscar Isaac
- Jessica Chastain
- David Oyelowo
- Alessandro Nivola
- Albert Brooks
- Elyes Gabel
- Catalina Sandino Moreno
- Peter Gerety
- Christopher Abbott
- Ashley Williams
A biting, poignant morality tale.
Filmmaker J.C. Chandor is building an impressive resume, first with the excellent Wall Street thriller ‘Margin Call’, then the Robert Redford tour de force ‘All is Lost’, and now this gritty 80s New York crime drama ‘A Most Violent Year’. A tale of one man’s quest to do the “most right” thing in a world working against those noble aspirations.
With a top-drawer cast to play with, including standouts Oscar Issac and Jessica Chastain. As Abel and Anna Morales these two performers dig in to answer, “What do I want? Why do I want it? And what am I willing to do, to sacrifice, to get it?”
It is 1981, New York City. Abel’s fear of failure has pushed his path always onward and upward. He dreams to expand his successful NYC fuel oil delivery business. Abel signs a go-for-broke contract to acquire a riverside fuel distribution center. Putting his entire life savings up as deposit–something forfeited if he can’t secure the remaining $1.5 million within 30 days.
His company is under threat by constant truck hijackings, with his drivers at great personal risk and a small fortune being lost in stolen fuel. And now he’s learned that the district attorney (David Oyelowo) is seeking indictments against his company. Is it politics as usual? Or is his street smart wife keeping secrets from him about company’s dealings?
After family friend and devoted company driver Julian (Elyes Gabel) is held-up and beaten, the local Teamsters rep (Peter Gerety) demands that Abel’s drivers be issued guns for protection.
Many mounting pressures coming to bear all at once. Foremost, the need to secure the “Big Deal” loan from his bank, now being threatened by the upcoming D.A. indictment. While he attempts to stay ahead of the truck thieves and keep the Unions from putting everything at risk with reckless, illegal demands. Even his newly built house is being stocked by an armed prowler.
Oscar Issac does a slow-burn as this not easily rattled, obsessively driven man. “Abel” comes from modest roots and he won’t let anyone/anything block his path to his dreams. Often butting heads with his passionate, eager to violence wife and his street wise lawyer/confidant Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks). Issac gets plenty of powerful interpersonal moments and he shows off a diversity of strong emotions in this roller coaster ride.
“Anna” gives Jessica Chastain another opportunity to portray a tough, nearly unlikable black/white character. Anna’s gangster family origins and reactionary style keeps us guessing as to what role she is playing. Is she Abel’s ally or an unwitting accomplice with those wanting to bring him ruin? The heat and fireworks between Chastain and Issac keep momentum high even during the less-action oriented stuff.
Albert Brooks is enjoying a resurgence of late in atypical, tough guy roles. Attorney “Andrew” is no pushover, he knows the stakes and plays “the game” to perfection. Both an experienced manipulator and a father-like protector for Abel. Still wish a little more of Brook’s biting wit was let out.
Side plots about backroom dealings with business competitors and local gangsters work well enough, but end up distracting much from the main threads. I appreciate the world that Abel must live in, but this is no ‘Goodfellas’. Chandor puts Abel in a white hat as a put-upon, never give up hero. And then mires him in the muck with all the thugs and crooks. I usually like grey-area conflicts, but I was never sure if Abel is meant to be a noble warrior, or if he’s just really good at self-deception. Perhaps, that’s the point. But, it still feels unnecessarily obtuse.
Love the period details added to this urban tale. This isn’t an all-cleaned up and modern 21st century New York. Everything is run down and rusty, all covered in graffiti and grime. An air of danger and indifference looms in the air–muggers, killers, and thieves abound. Highly immersive. Why do most gangster/crime films take place during the 70s and early 80s? Perhaps, because the absolute best films in this genre were born during this era and filmmakers draw from personal inspiration?
Action is sparse, ‘A Most Violent Year’ is a character driven drama. Don’t enter expecting loads of gunfights and car chases (although, there’s one really nail-biting chase near the end). Most of the tension comes from the weight of the choices, not from run away action.
With great performances, a potent script, and burning, stylized direction 2014’s ‘A Most Violent Year’ is solid entertainment. I couldn’t really relate to any of these characters, but I remained engaged from start to finish, nonetheless. Recommended.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
MPAA Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes