A Most Violent Year

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Patrons should be able to sue the filmmakers for false advertising. A Most Violent Year is actually A Most Boring Year, with very little violence in it. Sure, it takes place in New York in 1981. That year had the highest crime rate in it’s history; but would it have killed writer/director J.C. Chandor to give us a bit more blood? He bored us to tears a few years ago with All is Lost (Robert Redford). Instead of being lost at sea, we get the interesting snowscapes that always work well on film. Snow looked great in Snowpiercer and Force Majeure last year, and the look of this picture works. It’s just that Oscar Isaac doing a young Al Pacino (with a bit of John Turturro, Chazz Palminteri, and Andy Garcia thrown in), just isn’t given enough in the script.

Jessica Chastain plays the wife; happy to go straight and work the books for her husband, but is always quick to point out her mob family past. She has a Brooklyn accent, looks a bit trashy, and brings some life into the slow picture. Midway through the movie, she becomes just a stock character, though.

Isaac plays Abel Morales, who owns an oil company that he’s trying to expand. He’s about to purchase an industrial area on the waterfront that will make it easier for deliveries. He is in negotiations with Hasidic Jews that own the place, but trouble starts snowballing. His trucks are being hijacked. Drivers are starting to quit or end up in the hospital. Oh, and the district attorney is sniffing around. He’s played by David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma).

[Side note: for those that think Oyelowo was snubbed by the Oscars this year, it was just as big a snub that Isaac didn’t get a nomination playing Llewyn Davis last year]

I suppose Chandor wants to show you a capitalist working hard to achieve the American dream. The dilemma of an honest businessman surrounded by corruption. It becomes a blown opportunity. Morales is a character that was interesting to watch and try to figure out. It reminded me a bit of Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler. He spouts things he learned in seminars or online, and thinks that’s how to land a job or conduct job interviews. Well, Morales has his hair coiffed perfectly, wears nice suits, looks his rivals in the eye while spewing diatribes about why they should run their businesses honestly and stop stealing.

Watching guys in an office talking numbers was interesting in Glengarry Glen Ross. It was sometimes interesting in Chandor’s first movie – Margin Call. In this, it just bogs things down.

Your interest will pique when Albert Brooks shows up. You’re hoping he’ll take things in a direction that doesn’t make this feel like Godfather-light. Instead, he brings a nicer version of his Drive character, and never adds that much.

The cinematography is terrific. There are also a number of subtle scenes I enjoyed. One involves Morales talking to his younger brother. It’s quick, concise, and seems realistic.

Another scene has Chastain singing something while asking about an extra $11,000. And when the couple fights, it’s done brilliantly. She doesn’t come across as an over-the-top b**ch, but a very shrewd woman. Chandor did drop the ball when they had to show a deer being hit, and she has to shoot it. Her husband just couldn’t do it, and she’s showing that sometimes ugly things have to be done in life.  Well, metaphoric scenes in movies come across as amateurish at times.

It all gets repetitive, and these good performances are wasted on such an underwritten script and flat paced picture. Yet I never really got bored watching it.

This gets 3 stars out of 5, and I’m being generous.






  • Nicole

    I am glad it’s not violent. I will see Jessica Chastain in anything. Great actress. Not sure about this movie though

  • Bob pearl

    3 stars and you are being generous wow but yet 0 for Jelo movie and black and white or was it Selma I forget . Wow I’m so glad I’m not a critic as you are hard types to understand . Mafia doesn’t have to be all blood and guts this guy was trying to do thing legit , what’s wrong with that? I loved when he came to the table where the other owners were and just said STOP. And I guess you have a problem with strong women it was great she shot the deer instead of him hitting the moaning creature with a tire iron. I also love when the lawyer admitted that he knew the wife was skimming off the books and just said sorry . Sad towards the end about the only blood and guts part. The only thing I didn’t like is when the driver shot back which was good but then ran when the cops came as I would have gotten back into the truck and hid not run as that was dumb . Ok that’s it so 3 stars thanks sorry not gory enough but not all mafia was like that look at today most are bankers or lawyers especially here in San Diego.

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