“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.”
I saw JC Chandor’s Margin Call a few years ago, and while it didn’t blow me away, it did make high end finance, the Global Financial Crisis and white collar crime pretty compelling. Then I saw JC Chandor’s All is Lost, with it’s maybe dozen words of dialogue and nothing more than Robert Redford battling the elements for a couple of hours. With All is Lost, I was officially blown away and Chandor’s name was on my list of directors to get excited about.
Then last year, his next movie kept popping up on the kinds of blogs and websites a movie nerd like me checks daily. He had the critically adored cast with Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and Albert Brooks. He had the movie nerd look with its 70s, New York vibe. And he had a gritty storyline that looked like any sort of sentimentality would be impossible. So to say I was really looking forward to A Most Violent Year is a bit of an understatement.
It’s 1981 and New York City is going through its worst year ever for violent crime, hence the movie’s title. Abel Morales (Isaac) has built a successful heating oil business and is about to take it to the next level. With a deposit of almost $1million on a new prime piece of land, he has one week to come up with the remaining $1.5million to buy it outright. If he doesn’t have the balance in time, he loses his deposit, and the land is sold to one of his competitors. But it’s OK, because he his long standing relationship and years of success with his financier mean getting a loan is just a formality.
But when Abel’s trucks begin to be hijacked, the seedy, ruthless world of New York heating oil starts to threaten everything he has, including his financial credit. Backing up Abel are his lawyer (Brooks) and wife, Anna (Chastain). While Abel appears to be the one honest man in New York, his current woes start to reveal that even those closest to him might not be as honest as he thinks. Even when they’re working for his benefit.
Here’s the thing about A Most Violent Year, the story isn’t just secondary, it comes in at third place. First, there’s the amazing atmosphere and gritty feel. A Most Violent Year would be one of the best 70s, New York movies ever made, if it wasn’t made in 2014 and filmed in Detroit. But despite it’s time and location of filming, it somehow looks as dirty and authentic as The French Connection.
Secondly, it’s an acting showcase for every single person with even a second of screen time. Isaac as the mastermind, yet also oblivious Abel. Chastain as the ruthless mob daughter who will do anything to protect her family and her interests. Brooks as the lawyer doing his best to shield his client from the law and the truth. Even the colourful characters who fill the rogues gallery of Abel’s competitors. Who’d have thought heating oil salesmen could be so interesting? A Most Violent Year is almost a collection Oscar clips, but in the best possible way. They’re all there to service the story, not over shadow it.