A Most Violent Year, 2014.
Written and Directed by J.C. Chandor.
Starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Ashley Williams, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Elyes Gabel and Albert Brooks.
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.
How far do you go to chase your American Dream while all around you is being torn asunder in the most violent year in the history of the greatest city in the world? For Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis), an immigrant who has worked his hands to the bone to become the city’s premium purveyor of oil, he will go as far as being decent and upstanding will take him. Along with his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain, Interstellar), they have worked their way to the top, but despite Abel’s best intentions of keeping his business clean, Anna knows what it takes to be the best, and when Abel seeks to purchase a bay-side oil refinery, he soon learns the true worth of chasing his dream, as the police led by David Oyelowo (Selma) and his bitter rivals close in.
Director J.C. Chandor has built himself quite a healthy reputation over the last few years with his two debut efforts: Margin Call was a taut, at times breathless look at the excess of Wall Street; while All Is Lost was even better, a minimal but wonderful story of a sailor stranded at sea with a superb (and criminally overlooked) performance of Robert Redford. Third time out, you can see the confidence acclaim brings, running through the veins of A Most Violent Year in arguably the director’s most ambitious film yet. Cool, assured and riveting, Chandor’s third-leg of his early tripod of work is his shining glory.
Measured but decisive, Chandor keeps the film at a delicate rather than breakneck speed, with some wonderful wide shots and slow pans that are quiet and demanding on the surface, allowing for story and character to breathe as he takes us down some dark, murky alleys. But when the film explodes into life, be it with a car chase or freeway shoot-out, it brims with power and bursts with intensity, and cranking the tension to 11. But with such tension in the air, it’s somewhat of a shame that the final blow isn’t as compelling or indeed as grimy as the foreboding suggests, instead going for the straight and narrow rather than the jagged edges of a shuddering conclusion. A quibble sure, but one that stops the film reaching magnificence.
Chandor’s assured nature is infectious, rubbing off on his stellar leads, both of who continue their rich veins of form that has seen them rising from supporting players to fully-fledged Hollywood stars. Isaac, soon to be seen in a galaxy far, far away, continues where Llewyn Davis left off with another masterful performance as Abel. Nobel in his pursuit to be the best but never dull or dull, Isaac keeps us enthralled throughout and expertly walks the line between light and dark that keeps us guessing right up to the final frame.
Aside him all the way is the wonderful Jessica Chastain, the ying to his yang. With her blonde 80’s bob, alluring red lips and seductive inflections, her fiery Anna is everything that her husband is not: emphatic, fierce and ravenous in her pursuit of power and wealth while not afraid to get those fake-nailed hands dirty. In one ferocious scene, Abel hits a deer with his car, but unable to put it out of its misery, Anna steps in and plants two gunshots in its chest, and walks back to her seat without blinking. Abel talks the talk, Anna walks the walk; a match made in gritty heaven, Chastain revelling in the change of pace into darker territory that Chandor’s take allows her.
While the slower pace may put some off who are expecting a truly violent film given the story, A Most Violent Year is one of the first great films to grace the early dawn of 2015. Confidently directed by a director on top of his game and performed at an exceptional level by all involved, it’s a engrossing story of how far some will go in the pursuit of their own American Dream.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★