Violence doesn’t always equate to witnessing brutal acts of force and savagery on our screens. Emotional and internal violence of the spirit can be far more damaging and destructive if it’s allowed to fester and burrow its roots deep within a person’s soul.
While some may deem the title, A Most Violent Year, misleading, to do so would be rather short-sighted. Writer/director J.C. Chandor’s third feature is a taut, gritty and smouldering anti-gangster film, where the threat of impending violence lingers over every frame. Those expecting Scarface-levelled excessiveness will be left unfulfilled. Chandor succeeds by skirting around the sidelines of the genre, and offers a refreshing and thoughtful look at the capitalist pursuits of a character that’s trying so desperately to not become a gangster.
Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) has built his heating-oil company from the ground up. While others have taken their short cuts and operated outside the confines of the law, he has achieved his American dream through persistent hard work and hard-nosed business practice. Abel wishes to conduct himself honourably and keep his business on the right side of the law, but continued attacks on his drivers and trucks by angry rivals is forcing him into a corner.
Chandor certainly does tease and unleash the blood and bullets at their most poignant and opportune times, but he clearly prefers to consider the ramifications of conducting business in such a morally ambiguous industry.
Often referred to as the next Paul Newman, Oscar Isaac does a tremendous job at harnessing the same kind of commanding presence and restrained fury that Al Pacino gave us in The Godfather. Isaac’s Abel is a man torn and tortured by his own ambivalence. Every glance and every gesture is measured and calculated. You cannot draw your eyes away from him.
Jessica Chastain also continues to add to her ever-growing list of flawless performances and delivers an outstanding rendition of a trophy wife with darker intentions and motivations. The actress certainly was done a disservice by not being nominated for an Academy Award.
Chandor’s script provides an interesting dramatic dynamic which separates itself from other films of the crime genre. As the film progresses and we learn more about this power couple, it’s hard to determine exactly how clean Abel’s hands truly are. As the attacks on his business turn violent, does he truly believe he’s free of any guilt and wrongdoing?
There’s a fine line between compromise and corruption.
A Most Violent Year is also serviced by an evocative and stirring score by Alex Ebert that pays homage to Nino Rota’s Godfather composition.
Two powerhouse performances. Two hours of intensity that warrants viewership and acclaim.