I’ve been looking forward to A Most Violent Year ever since writer-director J.C. Chandor announced this as his next project. Mr. Chandor has proved himself to be one of the most versatile and interesting filmmakers of this decade with his past two films, 2011’s Margin Call and 2013’s All is Lost. The latter recieved lots of attention for Robert Redford being the only actor on-screen throughout the duration, and that he barely speaks in the film. Many were appalled that the Academy didn’t honor Mr. Redford’s work in the film with a Best Actor nomination. A similar thing happened this year, with many citing Jessica Chastian’s performance in this piece as some of the finest work of the year, and she wasn’t nominated. In fact, the Academy gave zero mentions for A Most Violent Year, which is strange because the film has had quite a good deal of acclaim. The film has been in limited release for a couple of weeks now, and has finally started to expand in cities like Austin. I took the rather inconvenient commute over to my local art-house theater, and here’s my review.
A Most Violent Year takes place in New York City in 1981, the most violent in the history of the city. It tells the tale of Abel and Anna Morales, a couple in New York that run a legitimate business of busing in Gasoline and everything in-between. Their business has begun to attract attention due to a carjacking with one of their trucks early in the film, and the police and the District Attorney’s office, with the D.A. being played by David Oyelowo. Abel, played by Oscar Issac, is an immigrant who is doing his best to make sure that his business is legit and legal, while his wife Anna, played by Ms. Chastain, is the daughter of a mob boss, so naturally her mindset is the opposite of her husband’s. Along with the carjackings and being pestered by the police, the Morales’ are being threatened out of business and for their lives.
The cast as a whole is extremely solid. Oscar Issac is quickly becoming one of the great actors of this generation, and with a role like Abel Morales, it begins to make sense why he’s going to be in the next Star Wars this coming Christmas. Jessica Chastian, whose probably my favorite actress of this generation, gives a meaty and brilliant supporting performance in this flick. I’m still trying to figure out why Chastain wasn’t nominated, since the Best Supporting Actress category has always been a very quiet and small race. Oh well, who cares what they think? David Oyelowo gives a very good performance, even if it’s a small role, as the District Attorney, and the legendary Albert Brooks has a supporting role as Abel’s lawyer. This isn’t quite up to the caliber of Brooks’ last great screen performance in 2011’s Drive, but it’s still great to see Brooks continuing in his later years.
I also really enjoyed the direction and screenplay by Chandor. What i really enjoyed about this film is that Mr. Chandor doesn’t force down your throat that this is indeed the early 1980’s. There are some hairstyles of yesteryear, but it doesn’t feel flashy or distracting. The film is also beautifully shot in this rather bleak but gorgeous color palette. Bradford Young, who was the cinematographer on one of this year’s Best Picture nominees Selma (which stars Oyelowo as Dr. King), is behind the camera in this film. The film is also a slow burner of a crime film. This isn’t a fast paced and balls-to-the-wall crime thriller. Everything plays out slowly, but the film never drags. This is primarily due to the talent that’s on-screen for the films two-hour running time. Oscar Issac plays the role with a calm intensity throughout this entire time, but can explode when needed. And Chastain is a delight to watch with a flawless Brooklyn accent in the film.
Even though the film as a whole is a slow burner that is very heavy on dialogue, there are a couple of chase sequences in the film that are really extraordinary to watch, but I won’t reveal the circumstances of those chases. For an independent film, they were some pretty magnificent chase scenes. And to sum it up, I really enjoyed A Most Violent Year. I was never bored with the film, and I thought that it was one of the best crime films that I’ve seen in quite some time. Granted, if you’re not a fan of slow-moving films, this is not the film for you. I eat movies like this up, but I can understand how some could be turned off. But if you’re a fan of films like these, especially crime films set in New York City, I think you’ll dig A Most Violent Year.