A Most Violent Year (2014)

20 Jan

Director and screenwriter J.C. Chandor reaches auteur status with his latest drama featuring outstanding performances from Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain and (should have been nominee) Oscar Isaac as a business couple facing increasing pressures during a desperate property purchase. The film marks Chandor’s third feature following 2013’s excellent survival drama All Is Lost

The year is 1981, and crime rates in New York City have just reached an all-time high. Our protagonist Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), is the proud owner of a Standard Oil branch and he is about to close on a very important piece of property that would connect and open up his business in a new part of town. Violent attacks on Abel’s oil trucks are becoming more and more common as he is reaching a settlement with the previous property owners, creating doubt and an uneasy tension between his business’ financial investors. Adding to the mix is the local District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo), who has a serious determination to prosecute Standard Oil for fraud.

A Most Violent Year is a fantastic film that deeply examines one’s determination to make it to the top. In a brilliant character display, Chandor gives his audience a detailed look at the complex frustrations that make his characters tic while under enormous amounts of stress. It’s a brilliantly written piece as well with many unexpected moments that do not distract from the overall narrative. Isaac, (who proved himself a serious dramatic actor worth keeping an eye on in last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis) returns in full force here with one of the year’s best performances. Jessica Chastain’s role is equally as impressive (a complete snub at this year’s Oscar Nominations) as Abel’s mysterious and calculating wife Anna who is in charge of the administration and financial side of Standard Oil.

As an introspective character piece that still manages to be grippingly tense, A Most Violent Year is one of 2014’s best films because of Chandler’s superb craftsmanship and his commitment to telling complex adult fare reminiscent of early Scorsese or Coppola. The fact that this film didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination still has me perplexed.

Rating – 8/10 

Similar to: Mean Streets (1973), The French Connection (1971), Margin Call (2011) 

 

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