A Most Violent Year, the latest from writer/director JC Chandor, is an interesting if muted and slow moving drama/thriller, featuring a couple of very good performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.
Isaac is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors (Chastain is already one of my favourite actresses). Here he plays entrepreneur Abel Morales, recalling Al Pacino’s performance as Michael Corleone in The Godfather. That is a comparison I do not make lightly.
The rest of the film doesn’t live up to the afore-mentioned masterpiece, although the plot is interesting enough. It concerns Abel’s efforts to keep his business interests alive in the wake of targeted hijackings, intimidation and impending legal action from DA Lawrence (David Oyelowo). Abel’s wife Anna (Chastain), provides a Lady Macbeth-esque power behind the throne, often urging drastic solutions which Abel is reluctant to take. All of this is set in 1981 New York, which, as indicated by the title, was a particularly violent year in that city. The film has an admirable realism, helped by stark cinematography and good use of locations.
On a moral/spiritual note, the film is makes a few blunt if effective points about the nature of capitalism, and the human cost that sometimes follows in the wake of entrepreneurs. These insights are nothing new or particularly profound, but provide an additional layer of interest. The usual warnings apply about swearing and violence – the latter depicted with considerable restraint and imagination, particularly through the use of sound effects.
All things considered, I think All is Lost remains Chandor’s best film to date, but this is also a fine, if low key, piece of work.