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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Movie Review - A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year (2014)
Starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel, and Albert Brooks 
Directed by J.C. Chandor

I must say off the bat that A Most Violent Year is a different movie than I was expecting.  For some reason, I had this notion that it was going to be about this corrupt guy and his attempts to get to the top of his game by any means necessary.  While it's certainly about a business owner striving to succeed, he's a man of character (though not without some major flaws) and his struggles are met with perseverance.

That isn't to say that A Most Violent Year is a film that's all sunshine and lollipops.  Far from it.  It's New York City.  1981.  Abel Morris (Oscar Isaac) is an immigrant who came to the US and found success in the home heating oil industry.  He married the boss's daughter Anna (Jessica Chastain) and eventually inherited the business where he's had moderate success.  Abel desires to expand and while in the midst of placing a down payment on a huge tract of land next to the ocean that will allow him easy access to oil rigs as well as tons of storage capacity, he finds himself under investigation by the authorities (led by David Oyelowo) for fraud.  On top of that, someone is terrorizing his oil truck drivers by hijacking the vehicles and stealing the oil inside of them.  Things are looking shaky for Abel who always felt he did the "right" thing and attempted to take the high ground.  Will he stoop lower in order to save his family business?  His lawyer (Albert Brooks) and his wife think he may have to, but Abel questions if that's the way he wants to earn a living.

I continue to make Abel sound a bit too perfect in that summary and it should be known that he's not an angel.  There's a grit and determination in his demeanor brought to realization by Oscar Isaac that is absolutely palpable.  He's matched onscreen by Jessica Chastain whose performance is surprisingly layered.  Seemingly the Lady Macbeth to Abel's moldable and impressionable "king," Anna definitely will do what is necessary in order for her family to survive, however, she also has limits to how far she's willing to stoop.  The question is can her biting demeanor cause enough tension amongst her enemies to make a difference.

J.C. Chandor's three directorial efforts have all shown much capability in directing actors and this film continues that trend.  While many praised 2013's All is Lost, I found it lacking a bit in terms of character development.  Granted, that film focused squarely on one person, but it still was a bit of a let down.  In A Most Violent Year, Chandor takes on the grander scale of a family and makes it feel soap operatic and intimate at the same time, while also placing the film squarely in the time period of the early 1980s -- a tricky tone to land, but one that is necessary for a film of this ilk which feels almost gangster-y and an ode to the Coppola and Friedkin films of the 1970s.  This is Chandor's best work yet on the page and on the screen and I look forward to his next venture in the years to come.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

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