A Most Violent Year

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Release: Friday, January 23, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: J.C. Chandor

Directed by: J.C. Chandor

In what’s likely to shape up to be one of the year’s most misleading titles I have happened upon cinematic bliss in A Most Violent Year, a love/hate letter to the 1980s that trades in what is presumed to be grueling thematic material for authentic human interaction.

Writer/director J.C. Chandor wades out of the pretentious waters of All is Lost with a stunningly realized mood piece centering on a Columbian immigrant and his wife trying to make an honest living during an historically violent and dangerous year in New York City’s history. In the process, he extracts from the steadily-rising Oscar Isaac a career highlight as Abel Morales, a well-dressed man in charge of his own gasoline-based heating company, Standard Oil located on the banks of what appears to be Jersey City. While the setting is purportedly the Big Apple, on a number of occasions we seem to be standing alongside Abel on the opposite shore, looking out at a sprawling jungle of edifice and cold concrete that looms large and a little more than threatening through the lens of cinematographer Bradford Young.

Either way, this gritty, gravel-laden locale is Abel’s future, a spacious lot he hopes to secure by brokering a deal with a group of Hasidic Jews. In securing a 40% down payment on the property it’s clear Abel has a certain level of confidence in his ability to make the deal happen within a month’s time. Though there is sunshine, we’re being transported back to some dark times indeed. Lurking in the background, aside from his hefty obligation to the Chassidim, are random acts of street violence that have repeatedly caused impediments to the growth and stability of Standard Oil; incidences in which several truck drivers delivering several thousand dollars’ worth of gas are forced at gunpoint to relinquish their duties, or else be shot on the spot, often in broad daylight and in the middle of a busy road.

Isaac’s Abel Morales is a man to be admired, particularly in this time, in this place, where a clean business deal is as commonplace as an mP3 player. Crooked men are Walkmans. Abel stands alone as he refuses to stoop to his competitors’ fear-mongering sales tactics. But what price is he paying for his attempt to keep his head above water? After all, he and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) are guilty by association anyway: Assistant District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) is in the process of going after several gasoline heating companies for assorted fraudulent business practices, his company included. Anna would rather her husband get his hands dirty too and silence his competition — if for no other reason than to keep his family protected — but Abel knows it would be one more thing for the suits to pin on them.

In A Most Violent Year, paranoia doesn’t run rampant; danger truly lurks around every corner. For men like Abel who are head-and-shoulders above their competitors in terms of being a decent human being; for women like Anna who’d rather act first and worry about consequences later, there is entirely too much to lose. Money is an object, but not really. Arguably Abel’s greatest challenge is convincing himself that his approach is right and his wife’s righteously trigger-happy tendencies ultimately are threats to what could become an empire. Stakes run high enough in Chandor’s time capsule without the melodrama some of the more prestigious crime dramas are all too eager to run away with, i.e. backstabbings, betrayals, sudden tragedies.

A Most Violent year is bereft of all but the latter. This beautiful film is an exercise in restraint, and while that was the aim in Chandor’s previous effort, here we can actually really dig into characters that deserve positive outcomes. We can dissect them and discuss them. Not dismiss them. It’s early in the year, but I might have found one of my favorites of 2015 in this gripping morality play.

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4-0Recommendation: Though the promotional effort surrounding J.C. Chandor’s latest is somewhat misleading (this is hardly an action thriller), those wanting a realistic, humanistic piece will certainly get it in A Most Violent Year. Fans of the incredibly talented Oscar Isaac (and the rest of this cast) are sure to not be disappointed either.

Rated: R

Running Time: 125 mins.

Quoted: “When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can’t do.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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28 thoughts on “A Most Violent Year

  1. Okay okay – I’ll try to go to this. Wasn’t interested for some reason! You’ve helped talk me into it. Would be interesting to see Isaac again as I just saw & loved Ex Machina. The guy is up for a very good 2015!! 🙂

    • Great to see ya Mutey! That’s really funny I was literally about to jump on over to CPD and give you a bunch of comments as well. It dawned on me how long it’s been haha.

      I don’t think this movie necessarily begs a trip out to the theater, but when it hits Netflix/VOD or whatever, I certainly suggest giving it a look-see. I am a fan of realism in films and A Most Violent Year has it in spades.

  2. Chandor can do no wrong seemingly. For some frustrating reason, this didn’t play where I live, which means I’m waiting for a one-off screening at an art house cinema out of town. I loved Margin Call and All is Lost and, judging by your fantastic review Tom I’m confident I’ll love this too.

    • Ah I hate that man, this movie really deserves a much wider open. This being only my second Chandor experience I have to say I liked it quite a bit more than my first (All is Lost). I was on the side of the fence that was really put off by a lack of info about Our Man, but I def respected what he was going for in that. It was quite the fascinating experiment I thought. Even if not entirely successful.

      This one is just incredible. Loved it. And yes, I’m fairly sure it’s a safe assumption you will as well. Cheers Mark

    • The only way it could be more misleading is if this thing were called ‘A Bad Movie.’ Lol!

      I loved this thing. An early favorite in 2015 for me. 🙂

  3. I’ve saw a lot of audience hate for this one. Critics are digging it though. With that said, I must agree that the marketing is awful. This is like the anti-gangster gangster movie. Just like Unforgiven was the anti-Western Western. Only difference is that Unforgiven still had violence. This one only has drama.

    Not that I’m bashing it for being a drama. It is a really good drama. But promoting it as an action/thriller is just silly…BUT I get why they are doing it.

    I agree with the score.

    • I do have to say I don’t get why the trailer is cut the way it is. It certainly gives off this impression that there’s going to be some seriously heinous sh*t going down, but rather than J.C. Chandor actually vividly depicting all the ways in which this town was violent and corrupt, he simply suggests it. I think this movie is a classic example of what the power of suggestion can really do. I loved this one. Glda you liked my score! I debated forever between the top two marks. In the end though it didn’t quite hit perfection.

      • Yeah, I say you made the right choice. As much as I liked it, I have no desire to ever watch it again or own it unless it was $4.99 or something. So not sure if I’d say perfect haha

  4. Good stuff Tom. ‘An exercise in restraint’ is spot on. I really enjoyed this film and was impressed by the two leads, particularly Chastain.

    • Yeah Chastain was quite good but I think I liked Oscar Isaac much more. Chastain has been a great actress for awhile but I’m for whatever reason not entirely taken by her. That’s absolutely not suggesting I don’t appreciate what she does, though. I think I just appreciated Isaac’s more restrained performance here. Really was hard not liking him and feeling for him during this difficult time.

  5. Top notch take man. I’m actually going to see this again tomorrow before writing a final review. Big fan of All is Lost and he’s really working with a great cast here.

    • Man if only my bank account weren’t limiting me so much I’d love to have another crack at A Most Violent Year! It was a small production but there were so many small little bits about this film that I wanted to experience more of. This was quite a turn-around for me from All is Lost. (We obviously differ in our views on that one!) 😀 (This is perhaps one of the better examples of what makes movies and movie blogging so wonderful — that we have such different takes on a single filmmaker’s work.)

  6. Excellent review man. I’ve not seen this yet – but hopefully I can get to it this week.

    As for your comment about standing on the opposite shore, I’ll have more to say about that once I have seen the film But in the trailer, I did notice the Queensboro Bridge aka the 59th St Bridge – one could be standing )on the opposite shore) in Queens with a view of the East side of Manhattan. And technically Queens is apart of New York City.

    • Hey there Mike! I truly hope you do find some time in your schedule for this one. I feel it’s highly worth it.

      As for the location conundrum, yes I could very well be wrong. I have family in the northern New Jersey area, so from all my visits up there I have had this image in my mind of what NYC looks like from that island, so there are a few scenes in this film that reminded me of that very vividly. I am probably incorrect in my assumptions there, but it did feel separated. I think the important thing to note though is that regardless of the technicalities, J.C. Chandor/Bradford Young do a remarkable job of sending the viewer back in time to this place. That’s what I loved the most about A Most Violent Year.

  7. I don’t mind that little sliver of the pie missing, I might even agree, to an extent ;). This is J.C. Chandor’s second year in a row with a film inside my top 10 (All Is Lost last year). I absolutely loved this flick. Chastain and Issacs are outstanding, and the always on-point Albert Brooks is solid in a supporting role here. Excellent stuff, my friend!

    • Albert Brooks was a serious surprise for me man! For some reason i totally imagined his character on a totally different arc than what he was actually going through. That’s not to say I liked him less, I was just surprised. There were a lot of surprises here, mostly good but a few a little more jarring. I still loved it. I didn’t think it was deserving of the full 8/8 but if there was a way to indicate a 7.5 slices, I would do it in a hurry for this one! 😀

  8. Wholeheartedly agree here, man. I just posted this today too and we seem to have taken the same qualities from this. It’s a brilliant film but unfortunately the title and it’s methodical approach will disappoint quite a few. Not me, though. I loved it.

    • Just saw it pop up in my browser Mr walker, expect a visit soon! 🙂

      It’s interesting. When this one finished, I was at first extremely put-off by what seemed to be an abrupt ending. When i thought about the way this was handled later, I came into an appreciation that not everything needs to be bombastic and crazy dramatic to have a strong impact. This movie was extremely understated, and yes perhaps its marketing wasn’t the wisest, but I absolutely love it for what it is. I think Mark Hobin echoes my sentiments the most: It’s too bad this movie didn’t get nominated for anything. Such a shame.

      Oscar Isaac is too good here. So is Young’s cinematography.

      • Absolutely with you on Young’s Cinematography and the two central performances. They were all good enough to receive nominations. Such a shame that the film overall was overlooked.

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