You know what I have been craving lately? A really good gangster film. I can’t think of a really layered and intriguing gangster film made in the past five years (if you can, send a comment our way). I suppose that’s why I went out of my way to see A Most Violent Year. The characters and film as a whole looked intense, dark and gritty. I’m a fan of both Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac and was really interested to see how much Isaac has grown since Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) and what to expect in terms of quality when we see him in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. I’m satisfied with his work in Violent Year and the film itself. The film can get very tense, however, pacing and momentum are issues.
In 1981, a violent year for New York City, Abel Morales (Isaac) is trying to complete the purchase of new property for his business. Given thirty days to come up with the money, Morales is confident he will come through with the funds. Meanwhile, Morales’ drives are being set upon by thieves as they make off with oil shipments. He and his wife, Anna (Chastain), plead with the District Attorney (David Oyelowo) to try and catch the thieves. The DA instead brings charges on Morales for shady business deals. As Morales deals with the charges, his trucks continue to get hit and the union insists that the drivers are able to protect themselves, bringing on volatile times for Morales’ future plans.
I loved the way this film was shot and the concurrent character of the picture. It really suits the era and the anxious undertone of the plot. Adding to this is the very simplistic score from Alex Ebert. Technical aspects aside, the story is shot, perhaps too passively to be engaging. I liked the underwhelming approach to violence that Chandor took, however, the lack of pay off in tense moments is a contributor to the slow pace of the film. For example, there’s a scene where Morales suspects there is a character outside his family home, investigates and chases him off. Several scenes later, a gun is found outside the home. In terms of manipulating the audience, this is a forgivable mistake, but slows the narrative needlessly. Regardless of this, I loved the story and the “Michael Corleone” journey that Abel Morales takes.
Without too much clue as the significance of Isaac’s character in The Force Awakens, I can safely say that his role will be quality. Isaac is a great actor and I can see the uniqueness that makes him so special. He’s always measured, which make outbursts ten times as effective. Jessica Chastain is also really good. You can take one look at her and instantly see where the character has come from and who she has connections with. I was more impressed with Albert Brooks. He has been quiet in recent years, but undertakes this role with ambiguity. While his character isn’t necessarily paid off, he does a lot with the role and keeps us all guessing.
I thought there was a lot to like about A Most Violent Year; score, cinematography and acting were all top notch and I have no big complaints with these areas. Some elements of the story were a little contrived and perhaps read better on paper than they did on screen. The pacing is the real issue with the film, but reading between the lines of the story, reading subtext and trying to figure out who steals the shipment is entertainment enough.
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