Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
So many things happened in New York City in 1981. Julia Stiles and Paris Hilton were born there that year. On the opposite side of the spectrum, over 1,800 people were murdered. And, on a personal note, I saw my first Broadway musical, “42nd Street,” when I was visiting the city on my way to Germany. It’s also the setting and time period for the new film written and directed by J.C. Chandor, “A Most Violent Year.”
Abel Morales (Isaac) and his wife, Anna (Chastain) have built a good life for themselves. With much hard work they have grown a small heating oil business into a mini-empire. Which makes many of the other would be oil magnates angry. Soon the Morales’ trucks are being hijacked, their drivers beaten. Compared to what is about to come down the pike, losing their inventory could be the best thing to happen to them.
More intense then violent, “A Most Violent Year” is a tightly written story carried along on the shoulders of its actors. Isaac plays Abel as an honorable man. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Abel was the brother killed by Cain and that you can’t spell Morales without “moral.” Having just committed all of his savings as a deposit to the purchase of a new facility (if the deal does not go through he loses his money), Abel learns that the local D.A. is about to file charges against him for fraud – apparently the heating oil business is very shady. Couple that with the fact that one of his drivers, while being hijacked, pulled out an unregistered gun and traded shots with the bad guys. Not too many banks like to take risks like that and Abel finds himself slowly drawn into a world he doesn’t want to be a part of. Isaac’s performance brings to mind Al Pacino (both in choices and in appearance) in “The Godfather.” On the opposite side you have Chastain’s Anna. The daughter of a former wise guy, Anna is the tough one in the relationship, always staying one step ahead of the next search warrant. It is as the couple slowly reverse roles that make the film entertaining.
Technically the film also delivers. The period cars and clothing are spot on as are the shots of a much grittier and dirtier Big Apple. Named the Best Picture of the Year by the National Board of Review, “A Most Violent Year” somehow avoided being nominated for anything Oscar-wise (I would gladly put Chastain in Laura Dern’s spot in the Supporting Actress race this year). I don’t know if it’s the best film of the year but it’s certainly one of them.