A Most Violent Year (2014) Directed by J.C. Chandor. With Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and Albert Brooks.
After earning wide critical acclaim with Margin Call and All is Lost, writer-director J.C. Chandor returns with A Most Violent Year, the story of Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an aspirational businessman trying to play a straight game while surrounded by criminality and shady dealings, both at work and at home.
New York City in 1981 is a tough playground for Abel, an immigrant working to get ahead in life. Abel is a family man, and has just purchased a huge detached house for his wife (Chastain) and their young children. He’s in the oil business, and as we meet him, he’s tying up a deal that would catapult him into the big league. Of course, the higher you climb, the more unstable the ladder gets from people trying to shake you off.
The screen pairing of Isaac and Chastain is an immediately attractive one, not simply because they are beautiful people, but due to their high pedigree acting talent. With the help of pinpoint period detail, particularly the accuracy of the vehicles and fashion, the actors inhabit their characters to help us immerse in this subtle, but absorbing story.
On the face of it, the title reads like a bruising action film, and while it does occasionally switch to a more pulsating tempo, it is a reserved film with layers of subtext about not only the eventual glory of the American dream, but those who fall victim to its broken promises.
In lesser hands, a film covering this subject matter could easily have ended up slow trudge, but Chandor keeps a firm hold on his material, carefully structuring each scene and allowing his narrative to flow. Backed up with fine acting talent, and careful attention to detail, Chandor has scored a hat-trick with A Most Violent Year. It is, perhaps, the least accessible of his three films to date, but no less worthy of your time. 4.5/5