Director: J.C. Chandor Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain & David Oyelowo Synopsis: In New York City 1981, an ambitious immigrant fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city’s history Rating: 15 Run time: 125 minutes Release date: 18 May (DVD)
In a world dominated by superheroes and the next action filled blockbuster, old school crime dramas seem to be a thing of the past. The time when directors like Friedkin, Lumet and Coppola were household names is long gone and seems almost like a forgotten institution in filmmaking. Well made thrillers that this triumvirate came up with are a cinema lovers dream, and it’s fair to say that A Most Violent Year is a spiritual successor to those film. Less Scarface, and more Serpico, A Most Violent is a slow paced crime drama that relies on interesting characters and a tight script, and attempts to answer some morally dubious questions along the way.
Set amid New York in the 1980’s, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) has built a small empire in a local oil company. His business has grown quickly, and somewhat to the chagrin of the Jewish and Italian businesses who have been working longer with less to show for it. Despite this, Abel’s methods have, so far, earned him a respect in the community and his refusal to undercut his competitors by unscrupulous methods has kept things friendly. Unfortunately for Abel, his truck drivers have become the victims of assaults and car-jacking’s by an unknown source, and his hand may yet be forced into more violent methods in order to keep his business and family safe.
Supported by his Brooklyn born wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), Abel must choose how to confront the various issues he faces, at a time when he would rather spend expanding his company. The threats become more personal when he chases off a burglar at their new home, and their once peaceful family life is thrown into turmoil. Alongside thefts and assaults, Abel must also contend with the Assistant District Attorney (David Oyelowo) who is willing to throw the book at them for their perceived rule breaking. This drastic chain of events forces Abel into situations he would rather not be facing, and his fearsome loyalty to a code of moral ethics is brought into question.
Director J.C. Chandor is only making his third effort as a director here, but it already feels as if he is in the swings of a director full of confidence. His shots of New York in the distance scream of a goal that Abel is aiming for, while he balances the city as both glamorous and moody, while never hiding the seedy underbelly that exists there. His script works wonders too, elevating simple scenes to a higher level through clever, knowing wordplay which gives even the less important scenes an intensity. While it’s never as glamorous as the pulpy fun of James Ellroy, it’s clear that the actors are enjoying working with the script.
Despite the films best efforts, it does, at times, drag. The slow burn intensity is noble, and in some parts it really pays off, but at times it feels as if the pace could have been a little quicker making things a little leaner. However, it’s a small mark against an otherwise very accomplished film, and one that may even deserve further investigation in years to come.
In summary: A Most Violent Year is not without fault but despite these, it remains a hugely interesting crime drama that old school cinema fans should love.