Truth be told: if you haven’t seen a J.C. Chandor movie, you’re missing out. Like, seriously missing out. That doesn’t however, mean that you should skip A Most Violent Year. Actually, that means that you should see A Most Violent Year as soon as possible and then head back and check out the director’s previous work.
Also written by Chandor, A Most Violent Year sounds like the most boring movie ever about the most dry industry ever. Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales, the owner of a heating oil company in the early 80s when people, instead of having deals with the electric or gas company for their heating, they negotiated heating oil prices with the providers directly. Life has been good for Morales. He’s risen through the ranks from driver to owner, married a beautiful, smart woman, and he’s just about to close the biggest deal of his life.
But all is not well at Standard Oil: the company is under investigation for fraud, the bank has pulled out of their real estate deal, trucks of oil are being stolen right from Morales’ nose and to make matters worse, now Morales’ seemingly perfect home life is starting to show cracks. It’s definitely a violent year for Morales but not in sense you might imagine.
A Most Violent Year plays out like a gangster movie but a non sensationalist gangster movie. This isn’t Scorsese. There’s no real flash in either the direction or the acting. It’s like Chandor watched Casino and took out everything that makes it loud, brash and wild. What’s left is a quiet, pensive exploration of one man’s year long struggle to keep his business and his life on the path he’s chosen. Sure, there’s the occasional flash of violence but it rarely involves Morales directly. In fact, the key players – Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks and Peter Gerety – are all locked in a power struggle that rarely resorts to violence. Instead, the group handle their differences in heated discussion, occasional emotional blowouts and the always to be expected backroom deal.
When Chastain’s Anna emerges as the saviour and Abel blows up at her, A Most Violent Year enters some truly fascinating ground. Not only does Anna emerge as the badass gangster who’s playing the angles and saving the day but you really start to question just how moral Abel is. It’s here that the layers of Chandor’s movie really begin to reveal themselves. That scene comes late in the movie and some might say a little too late, but I couldn’t help but have a gleeful moment as the credits rolled, knowing that a second viewing will be even better than the first because of what unfolds in the final act.
Cemented by excellent performances from Isaac, Chastain and Oyelowo in particular, A Most Violent Year emerges as not only one of the best movies of awards season but likely one of the best of 2014.
A Most Violent Year opens December 31, 2014.