Sunday, April 19, 2015

Film Review: A Most Violent Year (2014)

Copyright: A24 Films
Both interior and exterior of this film are about control. Inside of its plot, the main character Abel Morales, superbly played by Oscar Isaac, is a young New York businessman who desires to expand his heating oil enterprise. But, he chose to do this in 1981, one of the most violent, crime-stricken years in the history of New York. At the same time, his delivery trucks start to get hijacked, often involving violent attacks on the drivers while the same danger begins to gradually cross over into his private life.

In spite of this, Morales is determined to stay in control and do not stray from the path of doing business legally, even though his wife Anna, played by Jessica Chastain, continually pushes for other alternatives, some of which involve crime figures.

On the outside, J. C. Chandor directed this film by also providing it with a large level of precision and control. Like his miniature masterpiece All is Lost, Chandor has a talent for making compact cinematic pieces that are tightly wrapped, but still manage to feel very natural and organic.

In All is Lost, the sea and the weather made the film seem that way while, in this case, something similar is achieved by a masterful soundtrack. At some points, the film’s music number seem larger than life in their melancholy and without a doubt strike the same tone as soundtracks from films like Once Upon a Time in America.

Alex Ebert, who created the film’s soundtrack, utilized the groove of things like Miami Vice or Scarface, making it laden with the 80’s atmosphere. But, for me, the track work much more as a soundtrack of the city itself, which is an empire built on ambitions, desires, money and schemes, where the streets are dangerous and dreams bigger than the skyscrapers. American Hustle had some of that on its surface, but this film drills deeper and thus finds something more than costumes and haircuts.

While the music colored the atmosphere, the great acting cast provided the main construction of A Most Violent Year narrative. Primarily a crime drama that intentionally struggles to keep its crime element on the margins, where it constantly threatens to erupt into the main fold, the film produces a whole and stable story about the struggle between ambition and principle.

This all makes it a unique movie that shrouds itself in the real history of one of the most fascinating places on the planet, but still remains a clear and hard-boiled thriller. In other words, J. C. Chandor continues to impress me in ways I don’t see coming.