20th May2015

‘A Most Violent Year’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel, Lorna Pruce, Christopher Abbott, Matthew Maher, Albert Brooks, Jerry Adler, Quinn Meyers, Chester Jones, Ashley Williams, Glenn Fleshler, Jimmy Palumbo, Daisy Tahan | Written and Directed by J.C. Chandor


There are some movies that you come away from knowing that you liked it, loved the way it was shot and knew the acting was good, but something just seemed to be missing.  These are the ones you have to take the time to step back from and think about what you have just seen, what it was trying to tell you and what you take away from it.  This is exactly what I found with A Most Violent Year.

At first I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was about the film which focuses on 1981 a year that saw a spike in criminal activity in New York, but the answer lies in the two lead characters Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his wife Anne (Jessica Chastain).  The fact that they are trying to extend their business should be nothing too out-of-place for two business people, but it is how they do it which feels like a contradiction to the title of the film.  In fact it is probably their least violent year, or that is the insinuation.

There is always the hint that they have built up their empire by underhand means, especially when an investigation is instigated by a particularly overzealous Assistant District Attorney (David Oyelowo) but in what could be their biggest business deal of their business lives they are keeping things legit to protect their future.  The size of their empire breeds contempt with business owners who aren’t as concerned with staying on the right side of the law and opportunist thieves are attacking their trucks, which calls for violence to protect their company and ways of making income.  The conflict for Abel is caused because he fights against using violence as he focuses on making a success of his empire.  The very act of violence is now seen as a failure, and one thing Abel won’t allow are failures at this point in his plans.

The character of Abel is played by Oscar Isaac with such intensity that you can feel the violence brewing within him even if he refuses to give in.  We do get to see one eruption of this intensity though in one chase scene where truths are finally revealed to him as the thieves are revealed.  Even in this scene though the fact he stops himself before any fatality and its natural conclusion just further states the importance of lack of pushing the violence too far.

Similarly the performance by Jessica Chastain is as good as the mob bosses daughter ready to enact vengeance if her husband won’t make the leap.  Where her husband’s violence is held within himself building up his intensity, her aggression is more projected out to the people who fall within her aggressive gaze.  When she does act it out, no matter how small it is jarring for the fact that it is very sudden and abrupt like a metaphorical punch to the face.

Director J.C. Chandor has a vision in his directing and writing in A Most Violent Year that is very focused on the effects of the violence and the negativity it brews.  One stand out moment has as much to do with the cinematography of Bradford Young as Chandor’s direction and that is the chase scene with Oscar Isaac chasing down one of the thieves that have plagued his company.  There is a moment when he trips and falls, and if you are of a certain mind-set when it comes to movies you question just how legitimate that fall was.  If feels like a mistake where some directors would have yelled cut and had to retake that shot, but instead they carry on.  I couldn’t help but debate to myself if this was a mistake or pure acting and direction…whichever way they came about it, it is just perfectly presented for the feel of not only the chase but for the movie as a whole.

A Most Violent Year can make your expectations feel a little out-of-place, because we expect the violence to be in our faces, especially with the name that does give us a certain hint.  Instead it is metaphorical and internal to the main characters and this creates an intensity in the movie that is creates a slow burning impact on the audience.  Whether your initial reaction is to be underwhelmed with this effect or feel there was just a little something lacking, give time for your mind to digest what it has seen and it is a film that continues to eat away at your mind for hours after you’ve seen it.  Brilliantly shot and similarly acted you can’t help but feel impressed by the understated impact A Most Violent Year will have on you.

***** 5/5

A Most Violent Year is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.

Review originally psoted on PissedOffGeek

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