A Most Violent Year

Director: J.C. Chandor

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino Moreno

Rated: R (language and some violence)

In New York City 1981, an ambitious immigrant fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city’s history.

 

A Most Violent Year

By Matt Greene

Chandor (All is Lost) is one of the more prolific young directors working. With AMVY, an adult mystery-drama-thriller, he screams of the classics: tension of French Connection, quiet of Chinatown, and menace of Mean Streets. It’s a fantastic period piece that creates an authentic, distinct look at 1980s New York, while tonally replicating films from that era. Is it a bit TOO quiet and a bit TOO slow at times? Yep…but the taut skill on display is too good to ignore.

Abel Morales, a successful, hardworking oil company owner, tries to thrive and survive during 1981 NYC, the most violent year in history. Despite this premise, the crime-action is more a successfully imminent background thought than a constant in-your-face presence. As the movie progresses and ultimately gets better, the subtle suspense builds, and each individual incident pushes Morales closer to his breaking point. Isaac shines in the protagonist role, playing one of the coolest characters around: broken yet proud, strong yet vulnerable, decent yet pressed, and shrewdly bad-to-the-bone. I wish Chastain was a bit more up to the task as his ominous, hardly-doting wife, but luckily she’s not a huge distraction to the otherwise stellar acting by some of Hollywood’s great new talents.

Throughout the solid work being done, we are presented with some great things to ponder: wanting the American dream without knowing why; struggling to be successful without becoming corrupt; juggling humility and pride in a world that drains you. Unfortunately the character’s relationships with these different questions bring the movie to a bore at times.  Mostly though, it manages to be a solid little award-season drama.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 

A Most Violent Year

By Cole Schneider

J.C. Chandor is a sublime filmmaker able to make a movie about finance (“Margin Call”) and a movie without any dialogue (“All Is Lost”) each convincingly riveting. In “A Most Violent Year” he brings these same sensibilities to a more mainstream story. Set in 1981, New York’s most violent year on record, we follow an immigrant (Oscar Isaac in a role that will beg further comparisons to Al Pacino) as he tries to expand his business while violent corruption looms around every corner. At the same time, we are curious as to how much of that corruption he and his wife (Jessica Chastain) are involved in.

The film is subtle without being too distant and the tension builds to a powerful, if small, climax. Whether or not it is Chandor’s best work is up for debate, but it certainly seems his most mature work. He has grown as a director in each of his projects, and “A Most Violent Year” is a film made by a confident veteran. He is in complete control of everything. The screenplay pops in his hands and the moody pacing is palpable. It’s an old school crime movie; it feels like something made in the time it was set, completely untainted by expectations of a generation of moviegoers accustomed to Tarantino or Ritchie. This is much closer to something Sidney Lumet might have made.

Part of that is the look of the movie. The simple, washed out camera and the natural, wintry setting envelope and subdue the viewer. It is a mesmerizing character piece with an enthralling plotline.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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