A Most Violent Year-2014
Starring-Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain
Scott’s Review #239
Reviewed May 1, 2015
Taking place in New York City, throughout the notoriously violent year of 1981 and clearly influenced, at least in part, by The Godfather and, in my opinion, similar in texture to the elite HBO series The Sopranos, A Most Violent Year is an attempt at weaving a tale of a “good guy” mixed up with the mafia and attempting to remain upstanding throughout the adversity and corruption that he encounters.
Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain portray Abel and Anna Morales, who own Standard Oil, an upstart business that they are attempting to successfully launch. Due to the violent nature of the times, several trucks are hijacked, resulting in robberies and severe beatings. In desperate need of funds to expand their business and stay ahead of competitors, Abel and Anna are forced to take out loans, leading them into a world where crime and violence run rampant. In the midst of all of this, they are under investigation for apparent price fixing and tax evasion activity by the Assistant District Attorney.
The main theme to this film is the conflict and guilt that Abel feels towards violence and the constant temptation to join the ranks of the crime world to protect his business ventures. Abel faces pressure from Anna, who herself has mob ties (her father is an influential mafia boss known around town) and is all for fighting fire with fire. Abel refuses and is determined to lead a straight and narrow life. When circumstances spin out of control, his morals are questioned.
A Most Violent Year is an interesting film yet I think I was expecting a bit more than I was given. For starters, it certainly is not in the same league as the aforementioned works of art that I compared it to. It is tough to put my finger what exactly is the issue, but there is a certain quality that is missing from the film making it lack a compelling edge. The plot moves slowly, for sure, but the film is successful as the character study that it is, however, I was left wanting more depth to the characters and a broader vision to the film itself. I did not find myself truly vested in either characters of Abel or Anna.
Chastain received heaps of praise for her performance, which I found to be adequate, but hardly a marvel. Nominated for several awards, but deemed “snubbed” for not receiving an Oscar nomination, I find this to be untrue. Her performance is not brilliant and, in fact, Oscar Isaac’s is superior.
This is not to say that I did not enjoy the film overall. It takes some risks, has a rich character complexity, and is shot very well, and looks great. It has a smooth look and I completely bought the 1981 time period, rather than it appearing to be dressed up for the era. There is certainly an authenticity to it.
A mob film not on the level of The Godfather or Goodfellas, A Most Violent Year is a decent contribution to the crime-thriller era. It just does not live up to the critical acclaim heaped upon it.