McCoy on Movies: A Most Violent Year

McCoy on Movies: A Most Violent Year

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It was at one time considered a potential sleeper for award season, but then got shut out. But is A Most Violent Year still a film worth most certainly worth watching? Click here to find out!

“Do you know why I’m holding your face like this? Because I cannot believe how well that mascara is holding up under all these lights!” Immigrant-turned-aspiring-heating mogul Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) embraces his wife daughter-of-a-gangster Anna (Jessica Chastain) in a scene from writer/director J.C. Chandor’s drama A MOST VIOLENT YEAR. Credit: A24 Films. All Rights Reserved.



KEY CAST MEMBERS: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel and Albert Brooks

WRITER(S): J.C. Chandor

DIRECTOR(S): J.C. Chandor



 Set against the backdrop of the most – statistically, anyway – the most violent year in the history of New York City (1981), A Most Violent Year tells the story of aspiring heating oil industry player Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac). An immigrant trying to make an honest living, he seems to be the only person around him that is.His wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) is the son of a gangster, his accountant (Albert Brooks) may have looked the other way one time to many when it came to her management of the company’s books. The same can’t be said for Lawrence (David Oyelowo), the district attorney hot on their heels, however …Things could be worse, though – at least he is not his cousin Julian (Elyes Gabel) just can’t seem to catch a break … unless it’s one in his face from the thugs that are trying to shut Abel’s company down. You see, things are HIGHLY competitive in the heating oil game, which is why jacking of rival trucks, beating of rival drivers/salesman and potential home intimidation/invasions have become commonplace.

A most violent year it is, indeed – but is it one Abel can survive as he chases the American dream he still so steadfastly believes in?

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST?: People who don’t like films with potentially unsatisfying resolutions; people who want a character to respond differently than they do when their convictions threaten their very own well being.

WHO WON’T – OR SHOULDN’T – LIKE THIS FILM?: Oscar Isaac fans; Jessica Chastain fans; people who enjoy the unfolding of a story in carefully designed layers; audience members who enjoy watching a man stick to his morals; those who remember New York City’s storied (or should that be infamous) past.

FINAL VERDICT – IS IT GOOD, GREAT, BAD OR DOWNRIGHT AWFUL? A Most Violent Year is a very well ACTED movie … It’s just not a movie that is always exciting to watch, which is why it may be very well done, audiences may have trouble remembering it once they leave the theater.

Especially if the convictions of the lead character produce as much conflict in their own mind as it does everyone around him.

Essentially a morality play of sorts, A Most Violent Year uses its setting as an effective backdrop to explore a simple theme: Can, or rather will, one waver from their convictions (In this case, Abel’s belief in the American dream and the need to do things the right way) or fall victim to the evil surrounding him. The role seems tailor made for Isaac, who seems to specialize in playing characters with deep convictions in their talent that may ultimately serve to be his undoing/make him seem weak (see Inside Llewyn Davis for more).

There is never a moment where you don’t know exactly what Abel is thinking or why he is thinking it; he is a man who is determined and will not let anything sway him from his path. This in turn makes Chastain a great mirror to judge himself against, for her take-no-prisoners, family-over-everything-and-anybody mentality is fun to watch. This is also why one can view Julian as a sort of anti-Abel and view the resulting effects of his actions as the “see what happens?” when comparing the two characters. (Albert Brooks is fun as always as he has perfected the art of playing a put upon older guy trying to help a younger person be reasonable very well.)

All that being said, A Most Violent Year moves at such an unhurried pace that the story itself comes off as a little dry and – dare I say – secondary to its characters. You’ll likely figure out the film’s moves before the characters do … And unless you are extremely ensnared by Abel’s plight to continue to do right in the face of so much trauma, you may lose your empathy midstream.

So, while A Most Violent Year isn’t a bad film at all, it certainly isn’t the most memorable one you’ll see this year. And that’s probably not the emotion writer/director J.C. Candor hoped to create.