A Most Violent Year is a drama/crime film set in New York during 1981, one of the most violent years for crime in the city’s history. The film comes directed by J.C. Chandor who is known for his work on All Is Lost (2013) and Margin Call (2011). It stars Oscar Isaac as Abel Morales, a businessman trying to make it a world that is very dangerous to survive in, but his ambition won’t let the danger impact on where he sees his future. The film also stars Jessica Chastain as Anna Morales who as a wife to an ambitious small business owner helps to balance his books and take care of her family and her husband.
A Most Violent Year is probably the best drama film I have seen so far in 2015 and one of the best films films I’ve seen in recent months. Oscar Isaac delivers one incredible performance here as Abel Morales and one of the best of his career, the seriousness of his character and the way he presented himself on screen was a joy to watch. Jessica Chastain was also quite excellent with her performance as well and really worked well with Oscar Isaac. Both were perfectly cast for these roles.
The costumes and the presentation of characters on screen looked to be almost iconic in appearance, Abel would wear his suit with the light coloured warm jacket while Anna would always be well dressed in a way that reflects how her character is feeling at the time, while Abel’s outfits usually suggest his wealth and his power. It’s not often that clothes are chosen perfectly, as I did watch Inherent Vice recently as well and it’s a mess compared to this film.
Most of the focus is on Abel and his character as he tries to expand his business and purchase a factory which he can use to both fill up his trucks to deliver his oil around New York as well as store it in large quantities. The situation places the family with a lot of debt and we look at how this impacts his wife who also works at the company as well as the staff who are being attacked by random thugs who steal the oil and sell it themselves. Abel and Anna do have a gangster connection with Anna’s father being a very successful one, but Abel doesn’t want the gangster life. He wants to be legitimate and do things the right way and this is hard because there are those who would resort to violence to get ahead in the short term. The question is will Abel resort to violence or will he stick to his values and beliefs against it?
A Most Violent Year has one really strong aspect and that is its characterisation. Abel Morales is a very interesting person to think about because in this most violent year, he faces issues with his trucks which deliver his oil being robbed. But as most American films tend to suggest what should happen is that the character should buy some guns and go shoot up everyone, that’s not what Abel is or what he believes. He is trying to stay as a legitimate businessman and in a way is a pacifist, which is interesting considering the world he is in. There are moments when his ideology is pushed and we as an audience wonder which way will he go, will he go down the path of violence in order to get ahead or won’t he? That’s what is so interesting about him really and he’s written very well with excellent dialogue all the way through.
In terms of the directing, all of the film is well shot, there are a lot of close camera angles which give the feeling that the tone of the film is tense because of all the pressure on Abel and his family. It has a realistic feel to it, we don’t see people in this film going out on shootouts and killing hundreds of goons like in an action film. This a drama and it focuses on characters, the violence in the title is really the backdrop and the setting for what is happening in he film. It’s not the forefront of it so don’t go in expecting to get an action movie, because it isn’t, although it does have a shootout, some robberies and a car chase.
I wasn’t sure how good this movie was going to be when I went in to see it, but it turned out being really great and different. I really enjoyed the characters and the ambition that they have inside them which drives their desire to succeed in their lives. I thought it really represented how tough things can be at times for people in the world who are trying so hard to succeed. Abel himself is a small businessman who wants so much to make it and have something larger than what he currently has and it’s scary to do for people to take such a risk. When Abel says “when it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can’t do” I think it sums up his character and the film in the best way, it’s just about the risks people need to take to succeed.
Overall I really enjoyed watching A Most Violent Year, it’s one of the best directed drama’s so far this year and I’m really glad I got to see this film. The characters are so well crafted which makes them incredibly interesting to watch on screen, while the violent setting adds a lot of tension to the troubles the characters must deal with. The acting is superb from both Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain who both shine in this film. I can’t think of any issues with the film at all and I highly recommend going to see it if you can.