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Review: A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year
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PLOT: An ambitious businessman in 1981 New York attempts to expand on his fuel empire during a severely competitive period. Yet with a series of attacks and hijacking of his company trucks, as well as possible threats against his family, he finds himself at odds with those around him on how exactly to progress in this turbulent time.

REVIEW: A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is an effective and absorbing crime drama. While you may find shades of early Martin Scorsese, as well as a little Sidney Lumet, it is a fascinating film that feels very fresh. Seeped in early Eighties atmosphere, writer director J.C. Chandor presents a bleak world about an idealistic immigrant trying to protect his business. What is especially intriguing is the slow build. It may not feature a ton of death defying chases, aside from one thrilling sequence in an abandoned subway tunnel. Nor is there a single bloody shoot out – well, maybe one quick shock - yet it sure as hell lays on the tension.

Oscar Isaac is magnificent as Abel Morales, a businessman trying very hard to build his fuel based empire, honestly if he can. He, along with his wife Anna (another great performance from Jessica Chastain) clash on his ethical choices yet still remain a strong-willed, and charismatic couple. After several of their fuel trucks are hijacked in transit, a politically influenced city attorney (David Oyelowo) has very little interest in helping him, yet is very curious about the legality of how he runs his business. At Abel’s side is Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks), an attorney who also questions whether or not his client should be taking a few more risks than he is willing to make. This is a tale of desperation, ethics and the hard truth of running a clean business.

Abel Morales is a fascinating character, constantly at odds with those who surround him. Even his Brooklyn born wife, the daughter of a gangster, proves to be far more manipulative of a player. With hints of mobster Lady Macbeth, she constantly goes against her husband’s efforts of trying to protect the family that she feels he falls short of doing. Yet with an admirable strength mixed with fear, he continues to try and do right with his business and his loved ones. Whether or not it is the subject of his drivers carrying guns to protect themselves, or staying legit in fear of the authorities shutting him down, there is a whole lot to take in from this fascinating saga.

It is more than satisfying to find a truly adult thriller with a strong focus on character and story. Smartly crafted and wonderfully executed, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR creeps up slowly and progresses to an intensely potent conclusion. Chandor avoids many clichés and trappings that tend to fall upon similar themed crime dramas. Even with the slow build, there is a true sense of tension that never fails to be anything less than riveting. All the while he keeps Abel Morales and his struggle grounded in a very real and believably intensified way.

With Chandor at the helm, there is another factor at work that gives this feature depth. Oscar Isaac – after last year’s equally terrific performance in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS – is especially compelling here. The actor gives Morales equal amounts of sympathy as well as the nervous energy of a man watching everything he worked for fall to pieces. As his hardened wife, Jessica Chastain is a force to be reckoned with. After hitting an animal on an icy road, she carries out a surprisingly brutal (and necessary) act, a swift and vicious choice which her husband fails to make.

In supporting roles, Albert Brooks continues to impress as one of the best character actors working today. I’ve always been a fan of Brooks in his comedic work, yet it is especially exciting to see him tackle roles such as this, as well as his vicious pit bull of a villain in DRIVE. David Oyelowo is having a terrific year and this is no exception. While he very well find himself with an Academy Award after his stellar performance in SELMA, he gives able support in a less showy role. And yet there is another INTERSTELLAR star here along with Chastain and Oyelowo. Elyes Gabel is phenomenal as a young driver who looks up to Morales, even when his own American Dream seems to be crumbling around him.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a stirringly adult drama that harkens back to the late Seventies classic crime story. The early, serious-minded thrillers from Scorsese and Lumet seem to be an inspiration here. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain – as well as a fantastic supporting cast – add a level of class here to a tale that writer director J.C. Chandor skillfully delivers. While it may move a little slow at times, and the score by Alex Ebert is a tad unmemorable, it is still a refreshingly mature and satisfyingly gritty thriller. This is well deserving of the hype.

Source: JoBlo.com

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