This crime drama is set in New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically the most dangerous year in the city’s history. The story plays out within a maze of rampant political and industry corruption that is plaguing the streets of a city in decay. Doing business at the epicenter of capitalism became fraught with tension and complexity. Gone were the days of intricately established codes between City Hall, the Mafia and the business community. For small business owners trying to expand into an upper echelon of industry and commerce, it was a case of every man for himself.
A Most Violent Year follows the life of Latin American immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis). Together with his Brooklyn-bred wife Anna (Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty), he is building a small heating-oil business bought from Anna’s gangster father. Vowing to run the company legitimately, he discovers that the ladder to success is a morally crooked one. It is a time when simmering rivalries and unprovoked attacks threaten his business, his family and his own unwavering belief in the righteousness of his path.
Isaac was drawn to A Most Violent Year by his character’s ambiguous nature and potential to descend into villainy. “Abel is someone who seems like a pacifist during a time in New York City history where it felt like the Wild West,” says Isaac. “I saw him as a man of honour with grey areas.”
The man pulling the strings and the one who wrote the script is J C Chandor, after only three movies (the others being Margin Call and All is Lost), already a force to be reckoned with. He makes intelligent, thought provoking pictures in which characters are far from single dimensional. A Most Violent Year is a searing portrayal of a time, which looks and feels sinister on screen. Chandor has perfectly captured early ‘80s New York City. It is a brilliant period piece – a slow burn of a film that eats into your psyche as it progresses.
Oscar Isaac, who made such an impression in Inside Llewyn Davis is a superbly tortured soul, while Chastain matches him frame for frame, not taking a backward step.
Few movies have the power and insight of A Most Violent Year.
Rated MA, it scores an 8 and a half out of 10.
A Most Violent Year is now available on DVD and on-demand.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television