Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola Elyes Gabel, Glenn Fleshler and Albert Brooks
There has been a severe lack of good gangster films in recent years, that was before J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year hit our screens. His previous films Margin Call and All is Lost both proved that he is able to make thrilling cinema with the use of well-written dialogue, and his most recent effort is no different. A Most Violent Year is proof that J.C. Chandor is a true master of the craft.
Set in New York in 1981, which is one of the most crime ridden years in the city’s history, A Most Violent Year tells the story of ambitious immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) who is having to fight to protect his business and his family from dangerous rivals. After he decides to expand his business, Abel, a man who is desperately trying to do things the correct way and stay the right side of the law, doesn’t only have to deal with D.A Lawrence’s (David Oyelowo) investigation into his company, but he also has to deal with unknown individuals targeting his petrol tankers. He is pulled into a world he doesn’t want to be involved in, and has to find out who is targeting his company, how to expand his business and protect his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) and children.
When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can’t do.
Before his debut film Margin Call, Chandor spent 15 years directing adverts. Three films on he is now one of the most interesting directors working today. A Most Violent Year is tense, full of mystery and intrigue and beautiful to look at. Chandor’s script is superb. He is able to write dialogue that feels utterly believable whilst harking back to gangster classics such as The Godfather franchise and Goodfellas.
The film is visually stunning. It was originally going to be set during the summer of 1981, yet due to time constraints and scheduling conflicts they had to film during the winter, which actually enhances the look and feel of the film. New York under the snow looks stunning and brings to mind the Cohen brother’s brilliant Fargo. The snow and the muted colour palette exude a cold feeling which suits the subject matter perfectly. If it had been set during the summer the film would have felt very different.
Chandor’s direction and script offers an interesting contrast between fast paced action scenes, such as a thrilling scene when Abel tails one of his trucks which has just been hijacked, culminating in a tense chase on foot, and slower, more dialogue heavy scenes in which the actors perfectly bring Chandor’s words to life. Some of the interchanges between Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain make your heart pound just as fast as the more action oriented scenes.
You should know that I have always taken the path that is most right.
The performances are phenomenal. Oscar Isaac is riding a wave right now, after Inside Llewyn Davis, The Two Faces of January and more recently Ex Machina, he is hot stuff right now, and deservedly so. He is brilliant in all of those films and his performance as Abel Morales will do nothing but bolster his reputation as one of the very best actors working today. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens just around the corner, he is all set to become one of the big stars of 2015.
The chemistry between Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain is palpable and wonderful to witness onscreen. You can tell that they have known one another since school, which makes their onscreen relationship feel more convincing. Chastain delivers a remarkable performance as the Anna. She perfectly portrays a woman who has been surrounded by danger her whole life, being the daughter of gangster. She is someone who knows how to take control and Chastain gives the character a menacing edge, she is definitely someone who shouldn’t be messed with.
They are both backed up by an outstanding supporting cast. David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola Elyes Gabel, Glenn Fleshler and Albert Brooks all make their presence felt, offering noteworthy performances in their respective roles.
Chandor has made a first-class gangster film, which brings to mind the very best films in the genre. There are obvious nods to The Godfather Part I and II, yet he’s also able to put his own, unique spin on things.