J.C. Chandor’s latest film is proof that he is an exciting film-maker to keep tabs on. A phenomenal work which portrays a city torn apart by violence and volatility through beautiful cinematography, flawless acting and a story that will absorb you throughout its duration.
One of the biggest misconceptions I had going into this film (and I’m sure many other people will have this too) is when you hear a film title like ‘A Most Violent Year’, you expect it to be packed with gratuitous, Scarface like action sequences. Anyone who expects this will be disappointed, but I can only hope that this will not deter you from the film’s enriching quality. The film’s title refers to the year 1981, when New York City had one of the highest violent crime rates in the entire country. The film tells the story of Abel Morales, an immigrant business owner who is struggling to save his business from the likes of the law, society and even his own family.
The film’s highest point for me was the lead performance of Oscar Isaac, who is electrifying as Morales. Despite Isaac being tipped for Oscar success (excuse the terrible pun) he was sadly overlooked, but that does not stop him from giving a career defining performance in this film. Morales embodies all the characteristics of a classic anti-hero, but the one that is most unique and compelling is his facade. The facade is that we initially believe Morales is a legitimate businessman who has fallen on hard times, but it becomes clear he harbours a more sinister personality and is looking for any excuse to unleash it regardless of who or what it could effect. Another performance that must be lauded is that of Jessica Chastain, who plays the role of Anna Morales, Abel’s wife and business partner. Chastain (who was also tipped for award success) plays both the role of Abel’s main significant other/confidant and at the same time duplicitous adversary. While not necessarily a gangster’s moll or femme fatale, Chastain conveys many of the traits of both. Like Isaac, Chastain manages to construct a brilliant facade which portrays Anna as a loving wife and mother, but also someone who has the potential to be volatile and explosive. Both Isaac and Chastain give phenomenal individual performances but the two of them together is a mesmerising combination and certainly one that deserves more recognition.
The direction in this film of J.C. Chandor is a talent to be reckoned with and has been compared to that of Sidney Lumet. His depiction of 1980s New York has definitely taken influence from Lumet’s works like Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon and the cinematography contains elements of the neo-noir genre. Chandor is definitely an up and coming director who is someone to watch with intrigue and excitement. So to wrap up this review, I have to say, speaking as a fan of crime drama, that this is one of the most original and intelligent films I have seen in a very long time. I am surprised that it has been overlooked by the Oscars, but on the other hand not having an Oscar or any award for that matter should not be seen as a reflection on the film’s quality. I am so full of enthusiasm for the talent of J.C. Chandor, and I would love him to make another film in this genre. Overall, a brilliant film that could in the future have the potential to be seen as a forgotten masterpiece.
FINAL WORD: A Most Violent Year is a visceral yet excellent film that is enriched with superb acting, storytelling and visual appeal.