Where do I start with A Most Violent Year? You see the title, then you see the year in which it was set (1981) and then you see Oscar Isaac looking very Michael Corleone-ish in the trailer and posters. This leads you to think that the movie might be about the mob, New York City & everything that comes with it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A Most Violent Year is a film about a man names Abel Morales, played by underrated actor Oscar Isaac, who owns a heating oil business in New York City and how his competitors are trying to put him out of business by any means necessary.
The film opens with Abel making a business deal with a local rabbi over some land for Morales to expand his business. You get the impression that he is a savvy but fair business man based on the respect that the group of men in the room give him. Over the next hour you meet Morales’ support team which included his wife Anna, portrayed amazingly by Jessica Chastain, who you quickly realize wears the pants in the family. Morales’ company has drivers who travel all over the city replacing and servicing the heating oil industry but competitors are attacking their drivers, stealing their trucks and their cargo before abandoning the trucks in the country. Through this conflict you learn that Abel bought the company from Anna’s father who was a legitimate 1970’s New York City gangster and that everyone around Abel wants him to become that same kind of man in order for the business to thrive. Abel doesn’t want to run his business that way and does everything in his power to not turn into that kind of man even though Anna is pushing him to be that man, his drivers are begging him to be that man and the district attorney, is trying to indict the company on multiple federal charges.
The characters in this film and the actors portraying them did everything they could to make this film great but were weighed down by a script and a story where nothing really happened. You honestly felt bad for Morales because you saw how he was trying to do everything the right way but couldn’t because of the people around him. Albert Brooks played the role of Andrew Walsh, who essentially was Morales’ business advisor and throughout the movie you couldn’t tell if his motives were in Abel’s best interest or in his own. You never truly trusted him as well as David Oyelowo, who played Lawrence the district attorney, who it also seemed, was acting as a front for some other entity who wanted Morales’ company out of business. The strongest performance of the film is easily the one by Jessica Chastain, who is by far the stronger of the two spouses but uses that strength against her husband. She stands beside him in front of everyone like the scene when the Lawrence comes to search their home but has no problem defying him at every turn on every decision that Abel makes. Both situations give a glimpse into her mobster heritage and the life her family lived.
A Most Violent Year is worth watching for the individual performances but all-in-all the film isn’t very good. The most exciting parts of the film are two chase scenes that are mainly on foot through the slums of the New York City/New Jersey area. By the end of the movie you come to the conclusion that the entire movie was about one man acquiring a piece of property for future gain. You can only care about the heating oil industry but for so long before you interest has run out. This was the second major film for director J.C. Chandor who still has a lot to learn about pace. I wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone but I did enjoy the actors in the film, just not the film itself.