|Oscar Isaac delivers the good in any scene he appears.|
"A most violent year" unlike the suggestion of its title is not very violent. In fact it rarely shows any violence and the point of the film is not the violence itself but rather we tend to spend almost a year with an upcoming a-class family in the early 80's and their plan to make it big.
Story: The plot involves Abel, a New Yorker who is selling oil in the cold days of early 80's with aspirations of doing everything within the boundaries of the law. Problem is Abel's company has great expectations that tickle the DA office, other competitors, his own employees and a group of sellers to who Abel has submitted a rather large deposit to buy their property and final achieve the ultimate goal of the American dream. A couple of hijacks of his oil tracks start beginning a whole avalanche of problems that threat the aim of Abel. Although this sounds convoluted, it is not really. We follow the already rising Abel in the ranks of the oil business as a legitimate person and a good family man. The problem is in this type of business he has chosen the wrong approach. Although he is not an angel himself, he is not the scumbag that you would usually encounter in this sort of flicks. He cares about his employees, he has a strict code of ethics and his efforts indicate a humble but quite ambitious person that wants it all (for probably no particular reason). Is that enough to make us hate him? In fact we at some degree could relate to him. Maybe his ultimate life goal is to reach that hedonic state that most of us do when we buy a car, move into a fancy house, date a hot supermodel. Maybe his aim is to own it all (in the oil business) and wipe out the competition.
Characters: The film is populated with a palette of shady characters in every turn. From the DA to even his own wife with a gangster past that remains untouched for the entire film (good move) and to the sellers of the "hot" property, each one of them could be the potential threat to Abel's dream. It is interesting to see that JC Chandor (who also directed the film) did not reside into creating caricatures but rather actual human beings. Although they do not share quite the screentime that they deserve, Chandor is wise enough to have shots that convey at least sharp characterization and from one perspective it is sufficient.
Era: Having such a story set in the 80's is a clever way to reconstruct this period. Costumes are nicely done and the set design thoughtful without reaching flamboyant status. Even the cinematography gives the film an extra advantage of old school filmmaking with a grain like tone (unless that was the cinema's fault) and the difficult to spot special effects make this NY, an authentic one (look out the two towers from a car window at the background).
|JC is good enough in the film, but she needs a scene or two to shine|
Performances: Oscar Isaac is truly Abel, the man who is searching an honest way in a tough field. Especially when he lets his rather big eyes to do the work, he genuinely comes across as a legitimate and caring business and even has the means to make you believe. Jessica Chastain, I wish though she was more and to have one-two scenes where she can showcase her acting talent. Despite being excellent, I would like to see her more and Albert Brooks is almost unrecognisable as Abel's lawyer and brings enough gravitas to his role.
Direction: JC Chandor is showing some real promise here with a rather interesting take on the oil issue in the 80's. It is commendable that he has avoided melodramatic and unnecessary elements but I would like to see a bit more in the psychosynthesis of our protagonist - what makes him tick? What doesn't? How this constantly evolving situation keeps changing inside and outside? What about the rest of his circle? Things like these makes us less aware of the present problem and forces us to take a seat as viewers rather than as participants on Abel's journey. In addition, there are some issues with the pacing as for a two hour movie it feels quite lengthy at some point with a handful unnecessary scenes that add nothing to the proceedings. Of course we cannot have everything but as the follow up the excellent "All is lost" it is not bad. In fact, it is a worthy addition to Chandor's filmography.
+ thought reconstruction of the early 80's
+ Isaac nails that role
+ good supporting cast
+ interesting story
+ sharp characterization
- but not enough character development for anyone