A Most Violent Year is set in New York 1981, statistically the most violent year in the city’s history.
In the same ilk of The Godfather Part II, this is a slow burn thriller that explores the interrelationship between violence and success in America.
The ‘violence’ in A Most Violent Year is not at the forefront of the film’s action, but lurks menacingly, only occasionally bursting into life. It is this use of force that determines one’s ability to make it in corporate America.
Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a heating and gas entrepreneur whose self made empire is suddenly coming under threat: his trucking fleet has been targeted in a series of anonymous hijackings and the District Attorney is launching a probe into his participation in his industries ‘standard practices’.
His wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) and dependable lawyer Andrew (Albert Brooks) implore Abel to protect his business by any means necessary. But Abel believes himself to be righteous in his success and will not tolerate impropriety.
But even as he attempts to walk the high road, the pressure against Abel only intensifies: his enemy’s launch increasingly violent attacks against his business and his financial backers desert him amidst the bad publicity of his legal probe. Suddenly, Abel, confronted with the dark realities of corporate America, struggles to maintain his moral bearings whilst doing what is necessary in order to survive.
Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) is a marvel of dignified contained self-possession as Abel, who struggles to maintain his composure through his personal nightmare. Jessica Chastain is cast against type as his tough as nails wife, whose cynicism and street-smart instincts antagonise her high minded husband. Both are excellent and the frisson in their relationship is at the film’s core.
Director JC Chandor places A Most Violent Year in a dark grey pall of permanent winter and revels in providing period details from 1980’s New York; double breasted coats and quaffed hair are everywhere. Indeed, much of the supporting cast seem as though they are rusted on from the industrial world of this era.
A Most Violent Year creates a story world faithful to the rhythms of every day life. The characters are stressed, under financial pressure, they delude themselves about their own motivations, and are pragmatic about trying to make things work in the real world. In this way, A Most Violent Year succeeds in becoming the rarest of Hollywood accomplishments: entertainment for grown ups.
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