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A Most Violent Year – Movie Review

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A Most Violent Year – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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In the genre of gangster pictures, there’s an expectation they will go for either the Martin Scorsese, Guy Ritchie or Francis Ford Coppola style of filmmaking. With A Most Violent Year, J.C. Chandor goes for a different approach and presents a movie with a strong moralistic theme. At no point does lead character Abel Morales shoot a gun or kill anybody and it’s fascinating to see him try as hard as possible to not fall into petty criminal and backdoor dealings to further his business. It gives an added dimension to a film that’s not predictable and Chandor consistently keeps the story moving throughout the running time.

While gangsters figure prominently in the plot of A Most Violent Year, it’s mainly about a businessman and we the audience want him to handle his business in the most moral way possible. Throughout the course of the film, complications arise and we continue to remain on his side and J.C. Chandor does a solid job of telling his story. This is a family man, too, and while his ideals are much like Michael Corleone’s in The Godfather, his willpower is much stronger. Abel is somebody who almost cringes at the sight of a gun whether pointed at him or his wife and children. One of the most thrilling scenes in the film is a shoot-out on a bridge that shows the depths some will go to demolish the competition or to keep their own safe. When a gun is found by Abel’s children, it’s a scene that shows the gravity of the situation. Yet Abel tries to keep his moral ground, even as his wife Anna becomes more sinister in the course of the story.

At the centre of A Most Violent Year are a pair of firecracker performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. Channeling his inner Robert De Niro, Isaac plays Abel with a subtle fire as he lets his eyes do the thinking as we process what is racing through his mind as he tries to solve the dilemmas affecting his business. Chastain brings a Lady Macbeth-like quality to Anna, carefully showing her becoming more willing to fire a gun. The high points of the film are when these two thespians share the screen together and how even when they are arguing, we see these two are perfectly made for each other. It also begs the question of who is really running the operation, especially as we see Anna typing away at the calculator and looking over their funds and taxes. Albert Brooks also shines as Abel’s close confidante, who is in many ways, just as important in making sure he keeps a level head and doesn’t lose his moral standing.

J.C. Chandor directs the film at a delicate pace, that will either enthrall or bore, depending on the viewer. With the white snow of the winter glistering for the camera, there’s a certain glow in both the daytime and night scenes. One whole scene, in which Abel comes across a surprise on the road, is handled with the right delicate balance by Chandor and its conclusion delivers the necessary jolt. Despite its two-hour runtime, no scene feels unnecessary as each fits into the puzzle of advancing the plot forward. The result is an unpredictable journey that deserves to be called just that.

Those walking into A Most Violent Year excepting a shoot-em-up gangster flick might be disappointed. It’s not that sort of crime drama, instead relying on the story of a family man who just wants to run his business in the most upright way possible. Maybe there will be shortcuts taken, but not in a way that leads to a slow death for himself, his next-of-kin or his business. Abel is a smart man and one we root for and Anna is equally as intelligent, even if she’s more likely to take out the knifes or more appropriately, the gun. With a style almost reminiscent of 1970s crime films, there is plenty to admire in J.C. Chandor’s filmmaking abilities.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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