A Most Violent Year (2015)

A Most Violent YearIt’s 1981, and Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is preparing to close a deal on a sizeable new premises that will provide his expanding but increasingly constrained company with access to the New York City river. A string of attacks on his fleet of drivers is threatening the heating oil business he runs with wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) and mentor Andrew (Albert Brooks), and short of arming his staff — something he is reluctant to do — finding a new method of transporting his product may be the only answer to his problems. As noble as his intentions may be, however, Morales still has to compete with other, less reputable providers (Alessandro Nivola) and protect scared employees (Elyes Gabel) while also remaining accountable to the law (David Oyelowo).

Seriously, will someone just cut Oscar Isaac a break? Hunted through Athens in The Two Faces of January, driven to resent his lover in In Secret and deprived the recognition he believes he deserves in Inside Llewyn Davis, Isaac has made a career out of masochism and misery. A Most Violent Year, as its name might suggest, doesn’t mark much of a departure for the actor — Abel Morales is another good man apparently struggling to keep his head above water — but it does make for a marginally more interesting watch. Morales may be far from sympathetic, and the stakes more than a little uninspiring, but writer-director J C Chandor has nevertheless crafted an intelligent and engaging anti-crime epic that still impresses in other areas.

At first it looks to be another nostalgic gangster film, shot in wistful sepia and dressed in the finest trappings, but such first impressions are soon proven premature. The cinematography and costume design are both suitably handsome, but A Most Violent Year is more than just visually interesting. Morales himself may underwhelm but his relationships fascinate: a pacifist married to an ex-Mafioso, a fair businessman in an unfair business and a respected import threatened by the next generation of migrant workers, he is surrounded by people trying to emasculate, sabotage or take advantage of him. Unusually for such a film, A Most Violent Year isn’t attempting to romanticise criminality or corruption but condemn it. At a time when a prominent American businessman is blaming the Paris shootings on France’s strict gun laws, it’s reassuring to see a compatriot countering his claim in such a convincing manner.

The true stars of Chandor’s film are Chastain, Gabel and Oyewolo, all three of whom impress in supporting roles. Chastain in particular shines as Anna Morales, whether she’s noisily punching numbers into a calculator or shooting an injured deer dead on the side of the road. At once frustrated by her husband and infatuated with him, she can be both his best friend and his worst enemy — ready and almost eager to fight Abel’s battles for him. Gabel, meanwhile, is as weak as Chastain is strong, and continues to make things worse for himself — first taking a gun to work and then using it when his truck is targeted for a second time, causing a gunfight where there had previously only been fisticuffs and prompting an investigation spearheaded by Oyewolo’s district attourney. The three of them are never all onscreen together, but propel much of the plot between them regardless. A scene in which the DA’s department interrupt’s Anna’s daughter’s birthday party is one of the film’s best. Abel spends it moving boxes.

A Most Violent Year is something of a misnomer (A Most Trying Year might have been closer to the truth), but what Chandor’s film lacks in action it more than makes up for in nuance. Whether that’s endorsement enough I’ll leave up to you.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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