Star Rating:

A Most Violent Year

Director: Jc Chandor

Actors: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain

Release Date: Friday 23rd January 2015

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: 125 minutes

1981 was statistically the most crime-ridden year on record in New York’s history. However, this is just the backdrop to the drama that plays out in the terrific A Most Violent Year, the third film in four years from hot streak writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost).

Abel Morales (Isaac) is the owner of a small heating-fuel company struggling with the hijacking of his trucks, scared drivers, and the selling of his stolen product to his competitors. In an attempt to expand and elevate himself above these antics, Morales has put a deposit on an expensive but potentially lucrative riverfront oil tank property. With thirty days to come up with the money, Morales hopes to acquire the money from the bank before they get wind of the D.A.’s (Oyelowo) investigations into corruption in his oil business.

You’re going to read about comparisons to The Godfather, but links to Coppola’s crime classic are tenuous at best and can dangerously skew perception, ruining what should be one of this year’s finest films. This is more an understated and studied drama about a businessman working in the semi-legal world, a world of boarded shop fronts, hollowed-out warehouses, political corruption, and undependable banks that draws parallels with the current economic climate. Despite this, and the captions informing us of the crime stats, this is more a character study than a state-of-the-nation drama. Chandor has crafted a thoroughly interesting and three-dimensional character.

On the surface, Morales is a good man. An immigrant from meagre background, he worked himself up to marry the boss’s daughter (Chastain) and take over the company – admirable in itself. He staunchly refuses to carry a weapon despite the violence around him and his wife calling him a ‘pussy’. Not even when a gunman comes snooping about his house does he relent and he ignores the advice to add more security measures in his home: “I won’t live my life that way.” He becomes almost a father figure to his shaken driver (Elyes Gabel), visiting him in hospital and encouraging him to come back to work with pick-me-up speech.

But scratch the surface and something darker lurks. There is a hint that the arm around the shoulder niceties is only because he only has so many drivers willing to do the job and when he crashes his car into a deer he inspects his hood for scratches before tending to the injured animal. Later, he puts his hanky into a bullet hole to halt the escaping oil before inspecting the dead man in front of him.

Isaac and Chastain are in Oscar-worthy form. He’s all moody and dead behind the eyes (maybe it’s these muted Pacinoisms that induce the Godfather references) and she’s tough, still exhibiting the bristly street smarts of her racketeering father. A flawlessly acted and riveting drama.