Most Violent Year, A (2014)

Review #1,135

Director:  J.C. Chandor
Cast:  Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks
Plot:  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.

Genre:  Crime / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Supporting Actress
Runtime:  125min
Rating:  NC16 for language and some violence.

“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.”

Early critics' and festival screenings saw it did well; there was even Oscar buzz surrounding the film back when it was released last year in the States.  It just didn't have enough momentum or support that it could leverage to get voters to nominate the film for an Oscar, any Oscar.  Seeing this film, I would think another Best Original Screenplay nomination for writer-director J.C. Chandor would have been in the cards, or a supporting acting nomination for Jessica Chastain. 

But the pool of films this year is too competitive, easy to drown in and be forgotten.  Still, that doesn't take away the fact that Chandor is on an upward trajectory as a filmmaker, and his third feature (after Margin Call (2011) and All Is Lost (2013)) is his best to date. 

It is 1981.  The most violent year, as they say.  Things are heating up – corruption, fraud, police spot-checks, business rivalry.  For Oscar Issac, who plays Abel Morales, the cool-headed boss of an emerging oil company, he takes things in his stride, sometimes to the chagrin of his Armani-loving wife (Chastain). 

His business is becoming financially unstable, his truck drivers are being punched in the face by truck-jackers, his family is also under threat.  But as Abel puts it, he will only take the path that is most right.  Ever so calm and seemingly virtuous, Abel is a fascinating character put into scrutiny by other characters, and ourselves as viewers.  By that, I imply that Chandor's film is thought-provoking, much like his earlier films.

A Most Violent Year takes its time to develop, and it is a very talky film.  If you are bored easily, this might not be your cup of tea, however exciting the premise (seemingly promising a crime-gangster film) appears to be. 

But I like how the film builds to certain dramatic points, and then punctuates them with moments of sheer tension.  An example is a particular sequence involving an attempted truck-jacking in the middle of the film, with composer Alex Ebert's score changing the picture's rhythm and tone quite brilliantly. 

The performances are decent, but it is the relationships that hook you.  To Chandor's credit, he has made the film as unpredictable as he could, sometimes sacrificing a wee bit of logic.  Even if this will not go down as a classic, it is an admirable effort by an emerging filmmaker whom I think I will grow to like.

Verdict:  Takes its time to develop, while punctuated by moments of sheer tension, Chandor’s third feature sees him on an upward trajectory as a filmmaker.


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