This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Eric Robinson.
There is not that much violence in J.C. Chandor’s gripping crime drama, “A Most Violent Year,” a film that often feels gritty rather than bloody or grisly.
Chandor trades white-knuckled shootouts for tense backroom dealings: In one such scene, oil company mogul Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) walks into a room full of loud competitors and silences the group with a simple, curt “Stop.” Such a scene is more satisfying than any action sequence.
“A Most Violent Year” follows Abel as he tries to expand his New York-based oil business legitimately – despite pressures to use extralegal methods – while under the scrutiny of Assistant District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo), who takes an interest in Abel because his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), is the daughter of a notorious gangster
Oscar Isaacs and Jessica Chastain do not fail to impress playing Abel and Anna Morales. The duo are believable as a couple, and they still simultaneously add a conflict to the relationship that results in some spine-tingling scenes. Additionally, Isaacs and Chastain steep their roles in understatement and subtlety, a move that succeeds in making the moments when they do start yelling and screaming all the more effective.
“A Most Violent Year” may not be Chandor’s best – that honor goes to the survival drama, “All is Lost” – but it definitely shows his best cinematography. Chandor creates images of a decaying city, producing a sense of dread that festers in the audience’s mind.
The only flaw to “A Most Violent Year” is its thematically derivative subject matter. The story of honest men in a dishonest world is one that has been done many times before. The plot, while certainly gripping, occasionally falls into lulls of predictability.
Yet “A Most Violent Year” gets a pass. It may not be the most original storyline, but few if any films have been executed in this way. Going less for the punch of films like “The Godfather” and “Pulp Fiction,” and more for something akin to a political drama, “A Most Violent Year” shows the allure of the American Dream. Unfortunately, the dream only becomes reality when the system is rigged in your favor.
“You should know that I have always taken the path that is most right,” Abel says, knowing it is really the best he can do.
Writer, Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo