A Most Violent Year

 

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J.C. Chandor’s atmospheric drama is a gangster film with class.

 
Most Violent Year, A

 

The protagonist of J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year is a man who likes to get things done his own way. The year of the title is 1981, reportedly the most violent in the history of New York, nine years before Bill Bratton turned things around with his zero tolerance policy. But before then, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) has to deal with almost daily attacks on his employees as he tries to expand his heating-oil business. As a businessman and by the cut of his suits – and the company he keeps – Morales is a 1980s’ Michael Corleone. Oscar Isaac even resembles Al Pacino in appearance and has a softly-spoken intensity that was Corleone’s stock-in-trade. Even Morales’ wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), like Corleone’s Kay Adams, is a white-bread American, albeit the daughter of a gangster. The difference is that Morales is a very moral man who abhors violence. Unlike Anna, he doesn’t smoke and hardly drinks and exercises regularly, pounding the pavements of New York’s waterfront before the sun has even risen.

 

Much of the power of Chandor’s atmospheric film is provided in the detail: a New York skyline takes in the Twin Towers, but only subliminally; there is talk of shootings on the radio, but almost as so much background noise. The world of New York in 1981 is there for the taking but none of it is forced upon us: it just is. While violence does, inevitably, rear its hideous head, it is barely instigated by Morales himself. But it was a violent year… The strength of the film is in its restraint. This is a character study, a snapshot of a grim winter, and the real surprise is that Morales remains true to his principals. After all, his Biblical namesake (Abel) was the first innocent casualty in the Old Testament.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Elyes Gabel, Jerry Adler, Elizabeth Marvel, David Margulies.

 

Dir J.C. Chandor, Pro J.C. Chandor, Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb, Screenplay J.C. Chandor, Ph Bradford Young, Pro Des John P. Goldsmith, Ed Ron Patane, Music Alex Ebert, Costumes Kasia Walicka Mamone.

 

FilmNation Entertainment/Participant Media-Icon

124 mins. USA. 2014. Rel: 23 January 2015. Cert. 15.