Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino, Peter Gerety, Jerry Adler, Annie Funke
Run Time: 125 minutes
Synopsis: During the cold winter of 1981, an honourable and ambitious immigrant is forced to fight and protect his business and family from the corruption and unscrupulousness sweeping New York City.
MARGIN CALL’s J.C Chandor continues to prove how masterful he is at balancing understated boldness with restrained menace in his latest film A MOST VIOLENT YEAR. The film’s metaphoric contradictions will have you transfixed from the get go: attentively attuned to the thrilling, fast-paced action one second and then… BAM! You’re frustrated beyond belief because the pace of this gripping film is so sluggishly steady it’ll have you begging the screen ‘C’mon – give me something’! It’s THE GODFATHER in warm yellow tones, but not. It’s about principled capitalism, unscrupulous greed, and veiled menace but it’s also about family and respect. It’s beautifully drab and uncomplicatedly shot. It’s a most ‘emotionally’ violent year indeed.
It’s 1981 and New York is in the midst of one of the most violent and deadly crime waves in its history: murders and assaults are reported upon in every broadcast, corruption is rife, and businesses are at risk, testing the fortitude of the city’s businessmen including Standard Heating Oil owner Abel Morales (Isaac).
An honourable immigrant who worked his way up through the company before taking over the business from his father-in-law, Morales thought he was living the American dream: his business is doing well despite the city’s hardships, their family recently moved into a new palatial home, and he successfully negotiated the purchase of a prime port property that will secure the business’ future and its domination of the market. With contracts signed and deposits paid, Morales has 30 days in which to secure enough investor funding to pay the balance in full and close the transaction, otherwise he (and the business) will go broke.
The story follows Morales and his wife Anna (Chastain) as they take steps to secure investment funding and save their business. Their gamble begins to unravel when Morales and his lawyer Andrew (Brooks) approach the D.A. (Oyelowo) and ask for help in regards to the violent hijackings of their trucks and assaults on their employees. Instead of providing assistance, the D.A. informs Morales that he and Standard Heating Oil are under investigation for fraudulent practices and that an indictment is imminent within days. Shortly after the indictments are served, the bank loses faith and subsequently reneges on their agreement to finance the deal. In addition, one or more of his competitors continue to intimidate and scare his drivers and hijack their fuel trucks at gunpoint. As the time frame narrows down to mere days, Morales is forced to weigh the morality of continuing to run ‘a fair and clean business’ against his single-minded determination for success. ‘If I were you, I’d treat us with a little more respect, or I guarantee, he will make it his mission in life to ruin you’ Anna tells the D.A. as the Police search their house.
The dynamic between Isaac and Chastain as they confide and ally with each another on screen is intense and mesmerising to watch. Isaac, with his perfectly coiffed hair and serious businessman attire, is arresting as he skulks around the city determined to hold on to his American Dream ideology whilst Chastain, the ball-busting mobsters daughter, commandeers their shadowy world ‘doing the things Abel didn’t want to know about’ ruthlessly. His ying to her bang.
Chandor’s exceptional film is a tightly wound coil, tensioned to pop but doggedly determined to never get there.
Go see it! It’s frustratingly good, and sometimes, just plain frustrating. Dammit, now I’m frustrated.
[usr=4] A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is out in cinemas now.