Thursday, February 5, 2015


Rated :  R

STARS: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel

DIRECTOR:  J.C. Chandor

GENRE: Drama/Suspense

The first thing to remember about A Most Violent Year is that it ain't that violent. Not like the title might suggest, at least. It's a character study, and a very good one, about a man trying to do the right things when all about him are bad influences (like when mom told you to stay away from that nasty neighbor boy). Not the least of which may be his wife. 

The setting is New York City in 1981--statistically one of the most crime-ridden years in the city's history. Immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is living the American Dream. He operates a heating oil distribution business. He wants to do everything above-board and by the book. But what appear to be rival operators are beating up his drivers and hijacking his trucks full of fuel that they can peddle on the black market. Then there is this subtly shady D.A. (David Oyelowo) who's investigating his operation for evidence of improprieties. 

The wild card in all of this is his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), the daughter of a Brooklyn crime boss.  Morales bought the business from her father (bad influence number one).  Despite seemingly good intentions, she can't completely escape the influence of her upbringing.  So as the pressure on Morales mounts, she wants to arm the drivers so they can fight back. Then she issues some veiled personal threats toward the D.A. That's when we recognize an intriguing marital role reversal--where she's the tough guy, and he is someone who only wants to do "the most right thing." That phrase is at the crux of the movie's theme, in my opinion, as the most right thing--that line in the sand--is sometimes blurred and ill-defined (as we all know in our own lives, eh?). 

Title notwithstanding, A Most Violent Year is a surprisingly introspective film. A character study that doesn't rely on the usual Hollywood gimmicks to build the suspense. And there is no lack of that. With riveting performances by Isaac and Chastain. And the ever quirky Albert Brooks, who is a character study all on his own.  



When a movie's title has the word 'violent' in it, I expect to be treated to bullets flying, brutal killings and at least one mafia boss gunned down in a barber shop. No such luck with A Most Violent Year. To make matters worse (from my blood-thirsty point of view), our noble hero, whose ability to stare into the camera in fierce silence for minutes at a time, looks more Italian than Al Pacino and Robert De Niro combined. Misleading? You bet!

Trying to "do the right thing" is an uphill battle in this setting. And I, for one, didn't go to Goodfellas orGodfather I, II & III expecting to come out of the theater pondering the meaning of good. I blame the trailer for this. It certainly led me (and probably the rest of the viewers) to assume A Most Violent Year would be this year's Mafia flick.

Aside from it's lack of savagery, there were no real villains. No Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs) or Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men). The acting was good. I'll give it that much. But I walked away feeling as pissed off as those drivers must have felt when their boss wouldn't allow them to carry guns.