A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year photo starrating-4stars.jpgA Most Violent Year is similarly titled in the same deceptive way that There Will Be Blood was named. Yes it concerns violent acts but it’s nowhere near as bloody as the crime dramas of Martin Scorsese for example. The setting is New York City 1981.  Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) seeks to expand a struggling oil delivery company. There has been a rash of attacks on his drivers. Thieves are hijacking trucks and stealing the oil. Meanwhile he is trying to secure a loan that will help him grow the business.

There’s a familiarity woven into the production. Abel Morales is a character Al Pacino would have portrayed in the 70s. As his wife Anna Morales, Jessica Chastain is channeling early 80s Michelle Pfeiffer style if not the personality. Alright, I’ll admit I’m alluding to Scarface here, but The Godfather is a reference as well. The production kind of suggests the mob mentality of those films but they’re not a good comparison. A Most Violent Year is actually rather elegant. Oscar Isaac resists the impulse to be a hoodlum, despite the temptation. He understands the mobster lifestyle is the road to hell and opts for legally working within the system to rise above the mire of that behavior. He’s steely calm in the face of crisis. His Brooklyn born wife is another story. Jessica Chastain is more gangster than he is. She’s fantastic in this role. I mean we already know the actress can inhabit a part like few of her generation but she steals the spotlight here. Her delivery of lines like “This was very disrespectful” to David Oyelowo’s district attorney conveys so much with just a wave of her finger. In another sequence, the couple accidentally hit a deer in their car on the way home one evening. Chastain owns that scene too.

That’s not to say that Isaac isn’t her equal. As Abel Morales, he’s a charismatic guy that embodies the idea that “success and prosperity are attainable through hard work, determination, and initiative.” There’s an occasion early in A Most Violent Year when businessman Abel is conferring with one of his drivers Julian (Elyes Gabel). The Spanish speaking man starts to talk in his native tongue and Abel corrects him. “In English” he insists. Later he’s trying to get information from Julian’s wife and the exchange is completely in Spanish. It’s a telling moment. Abel has the ability to speak Spanish but he chooses not to unless it’s absolutely necessary. He has fully bought into the American way of life and assimilated into its culture.

A Most Violent Year is an interesting take on the American Dream. Columbian born Abel Morales is not the stereotypical all American boy next door. With his wavy black hair and dark eyes he rocks a camel-hair topcoat with a suave personality to match. Plus he’s got the work ethic that says he’s going places.  The wardrobe is key – so well dressed. The only thing that rivals Abel’s succession of double breasted suits, is Chastain’s seemingly endless wardrobe of outfits. Just try and watch the couple engage a potential investor at dinner and NOT stare at Anna’s plunging neckline. It complements her personality. What I’m really saying is I love the mood of A Most Violent Year. Along with a haunting score by Alex Ebert, Director J.C. Chandor weaves a deep tale of the American Dream that authentically portrays the time period as if it was genuinely filmed in 1981. Chandor has directed 3 critically acclaimed movies to date, and for my money, this is his most entertaining. If he’s reading, “Keep up the great work!  I can’t wait to see what you do next.”


22 Responses to “A Most Violent Year”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyable read here Mark. I cannot wait to access this one, but it appears that will be some time. Beginning of the year is SOO slow around here. 😡


  2. I enjoyed this one myself, Mark. I think it’s been poorly marketed, though. The trailers depict it as a different kind of gangster film altogether and when I was watching it, it was nothing like I expected. It didn’t matter, though, as I still entered into it and you rightly highlight the absolutely superb central performances from Isaac and Chastain.


  3. Good review Mark. A smart crime-thriller that knows its mood, characters, and setting, and does well with all of those factors combined.


  4. Isaac & Chastain: 2 talents I would like to see in th same movie – thanks for bringing this to my attention! If I get th chance I will go check it out.


  5. I am really looking forward to seeing this. I love Chastain and Isaac is definitely one to watch.


  6. This reminds me of Unforgiven. It is like the anti-gangster gangster flick just like Clint’s classic was an anti-western western flick!


    • Those nicknames may be accurate but you may remember Unforgiven was all about revenge. It was 10x more violent than A Most Violent Year, where the main character resists that impulse.


  7. Good review, after reading this I’m more interested in giving this one a watch. To be honest, the trailer was less than exciting but I’m a fan of Chastain and I really liked Issac in one of his previous movies.


    • I hadn’t even seen the trailer so I literally just watched it now. I think it makes the movie look more action packed than it really is. If it didn’t impress you, I’m not sure the actual movie will. It’s very low key. But I like dramas like that.


  8. I just watched A Most Violent Year last night for this week’s podcast and I thought it was great. I agree with your comparisons to Scarface and The Godfather. There’s even a little Goodfellas in there too with its bleak portrayal of the 80s, but as you say, not the level of violence you’d expect from the title. I enjoyed Chastain’s performance but I wasn’t a big fan of her New York accent that game and went depending on the scene. I also love the mood that this film sets from the wardrobe, the music, and the color palette loaded with yellows and greys. Chastain’s plunging neckline certainly was captivating too haha. If I had one complaint about the movie it’s that some of the relationships between various characters were a little confusing. Other than that, I loved it. I’m looking forward to what Chandor does next as well.


  9. They should have released this sooner and wider. It such a good movie, I don’t think people got a fair chance to see it. Jessica should have been nominated for this role. 4 stars


    • Yeah definitely wider. A disappointment like Adam Sandler’s Blended opened in over 3500 theaters for example, but this only reached 800 at its peak. Doesn’t give everyone a chance to see it unfortunately.


  10. GaryGreg828 Says:

    Great review, Mark. I remembered you rated this one high and when I found it on Amazon Prime, I watched it. I agree w/ your review 100%. I loved the score; subtle and melodic and fit the theme and mood. As I watched this I kept thinking how much Oscar Isaac reminded me of Al Pacino in Godfather; he didn’t remind me of Scarface so much, but definitely Godfather. Probably b/c Abel has a demeanor like Michael Corleone, and wasn’t yelling all the time like Tony Montana.

    And in a pleasant twist of irony, I liked that Abel wasn’t violent like the title may suggest. lol. I think the main reason I held off on this for so long was b/c I assumed it was another violent typical gangster film, and I generally don’t care for those. I am much more intrigued to watch business strategy and who will bend to whose will through business rather than someone simply shooting someone in the head and killing them. lol.

    *On another note I went to see “Captive” today and that was the first time I saw David Oyelowo in a movie – and then I watched this when I got home and saw he was in this one, as well. He’s a pretty decent actor. I think he was better in “Captive” when he wasn’t talking. Kate Mara was good, as well; she did a great job emoting with her eyes and not really saying a lot. The film was pretty good. I think you’d like it. I’d like to see a review by you for it. It’s good to see Christian films out there that give a good message without being preachy and over-the-top. This one had good acting that told the story more with their eyes than dialogue.


    • David Oyelowo is quite good. Obviously Selma is his most celebrated performance. He’s the star of the film and he’s great in the role. I’d also recommend The Last King of Scotland and Rise of the Planet of the Apes as well.


      • GaryGreg828 Says:

        I’ve seen LKOS and Rise of the Apes. Both great films! I just don’t remember David Oyelowo, but now that I think about it I recall him in Rise as the menacing pharmaceutical guy. Looking forward to the last installment of the trilogy. *also, I hope you’ll check out “Captive” and write a review. It’s good to see some quality Christian films being made that have good acting and directing and aren’t overly preachy.

        Liked by 1 person

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