Monday, December 29, 2014

Movie with Abe: A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Released December 31, 2014

It’s hard to start a review without talking about a film’s title, something I’ve been doing a lot lately. The last film technically released in 2014 is “A Most Violent Year,” director J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to his acclaimed first two features, “All is Lost” and “Margin Call.” The title conjures up images of grotesque mob violence and many deaths, and is sure to scare away many potential moviegoers who don’t want to see brutality. The violence presented in this film is of a far more subtle and foreboding sort, representing a continually unstable and volatile environment in which unrest is omnipresent. That concept drives this strong, brooding thriller, which represents Chandor’s best film yet.

The way in which “A Most Violent Year” opens is indicative of what the rest of the film has to offer. Julian (Elyes Gabel) is sitting in the cab of his oil truck about to go through a toll. As soon as he does, he sees a car stopped in front of him and men getting out of the car in front of it. Before he knows what has happened, he has been beaten and thrown from the truck, which is driven off into the distance. This becomes a regular occurrence for the fleet of trucks owned by Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a businessman desperately trying to close on a new property while preparing for the onslaught of an FBI investigation led by a determined lawman (David Oyelowo). The worst thing for him is that he has no idea who is robbing his trucks and sabotaging his business.

Abel is a fascinating main character, someone who worked his way up from the bottom to buy his own business and marry an heiress who grew up in luxury (Jessica Chastain). He believes firmly that he is a good man and that his business practices are honest, even if his wife and main counsel (Albert Brooks) are aware that sometimes things need to be done in order to succeed. One particularly terrific scene shows Abel teaching new hires how to make a sale and explaining why they should choose his company, another mesmerizing example of Abel’s confidence in hard work and its earned consequences.

Set in 1981, this film has a distinct historical feel created by a combination of its gritty and stylized art direction and set design, intentional, lingering cinematography, and slow-paced editing to effectively capture the intensity and uncertainty of each moment. Every element of the film works to support its tone and tell its story. Chandor has managed to merge the grandeur and scope of the business world with the personal humanity of individual suffering to create a finessed and career-topping third film. Chastain is the one being recognized by many awards groups for her performance, and while she’s typically good, this film belongs to Isaac, who pivots entirely from Llewyn Davis to portray a character whose situation is reminiscent of another Coen brothers films, “A Serious Man,” but who responds in an entirely different and fully determined fashion.


No comments: