A Most Violent Year (2014)
Editor’s Notes: A Most Violent Year is currently out in limited release.
J.C. Chandor has built quite the resume over the last four years with Margin Call, All is Lost and his latest entry, A Most Violent Year. His continued success will no doubt earn him a place in the upper echelon of working filmmakers. The film takes place in 1981 New York where Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is on the brink of realizing The American Dream. Morales owns and operates an oil heating company but the company trucks have been targeted with brutal attacks, resulting in theft and a significant loss of profits. It’s unclear who is responsible for the crimes and they couldn’t come at a worse time as Morales is in the final stages of securing a storage-manufacturer plant that would place him in a position to be the most lucrative oil heating company in the region.
The performances in the film are superb. Isaac is a bona fide leading man and there has never been a question of Chastain’s ability to steal scenes at will. It’s a pure joy to watch these heavyweights share the screen.
Morales is a self-made man. He carries himself with reserved confidence and pride and Isaac channels his inner Al Pacino in this role. Although he borrows elements from Pacino, this isn’t quite a gangster movie. Morales doesn’t have a driver, doesn’t have a bodyguard, but he does have a consigliere in the form of Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks) and a loving wife with an edge, Anna Morales (Jessica Chastain). There’s a bit of dirt on the people surrounding Morales and he’s either oblivious to it or he turns a blind eye. In his eyes, he has made it to this point playing completely straight. There are elements introduced that clearly show that shady things have been completed in order to get a step ahead.
The performances in the film are superb. Isaac is a bona fide leading man and there has never been a question of Chastain’s ability to steal scenes at will. It’s a pure joy to watch these heavyweights share the screen. Rounding out the supporting cast, David Oyelowo (Selma) continues his ascent with a terrific performance as a straight arrow detective. Brooks is the kind of performer who elevates a film whenever he turns up. There are plenty of recognizable faces, each performance is vital to the success of this feature.
The film is enthralling because of the mystery of the attacks and the thrilling set pieces. The audience isn’t given a lot to work with to make an informed guess about the attacks. The twisty plot is sharp and makes for a fascinating watch while the story unfolds. Make no mistake, A Most Violent Year is a slow boil film that some may describe as “glacial pace” but it is thoroughly watchable because each scene is vital, the editing is wonderfully crafted, and flows beautifully. Some viewers may get bored while others will be completely intrigued from start to finish. A Most Violent Year is also hardly violent. 1981 was statistically one of the most violent years in the history of New York, and a moral American Dream story set in one of the most violent years of the city’s history can lead to many discussions about what Chandor is saying in this film. If you have any doubts about where the film is leading or any character motivations, stick with it, pay attention and you will be rewarded with a satisfying experience at the movies.
If you have any doubts about where the film is leading or any character motivations, stick with it, pay attention and you will be rewarded with a satisfying experience at the movies.
The world we’re witnessing is easier to get into thanks to period specific set design, costumes and cars. The palette of the color timing is washed out. Chandor is telling a gritty story, there is no need to make the colors pop in this film. The grimness of the look and feel makes it so much easier to see the story from Morales’ point of view. The film doesn’t pop like other films but aesthetically each shot is set up beautifully.
Overall, A Most Violent Year earns the critical acclaim rounding out a spectacular year at the movies. There may be some yahoos out there who will complain about “lack of action and violence” the same way others complained about lack of action and violence in Drive (also starring Isaac). A Most Violent Year proves that if you tell an intriguing story with thriller elements, you don’t need a lot of action and violence to elevate the pulse of the engaged viewer.
A Most Violent Year proves that if you tell an intriguing story with thriller elements, you don’t need a lot of action and violence to elevate the pulse of the engaged viewer.