Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A Most Violent Year

Sometimes when I write a review of a film, I’ll listen to the soundtrack as I write. It helps remind you of the film, the feel and the imagery. But for A Most Violent Year, there’s only one song from the soundtrack I’m listening to. That song is Inner City Blues by Marvin Gaye, which plays over the opening credits of the film. For me, this song’s sound sums up this film perfectly. Like the song, A Most Violent Year is extremely elegant and sophisticated, but with a strong message about what the economy can do to you. In Marvin Gaye’s case, it made him want to throw his hands up and holler. Abel Morales in A Most Violent Year takes a different approach.

 Directed by J. C. Chandor and out now on DVD & Blu-Ray, A Most Violent Year is an extremely interesting film. Following on from his success with Margin Call and All Is Lost, Chandor writes and directs this classy film with great skill. The plot sounds simple – the year is 1981, and Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is fighting to protect his business and family during one of the most violent years in the city’s history, as the economy worsens. And in a way, it is a simple plot. But Chandor’s phenomenal, intelligent script and subtle direction make A Most Violent Year a very compelling piece. Upon researching audience response to the film, I was not surprised to learn that many people found it too slow and ‘dull’. This problem could lie with the marketing – like British drama Locke, some trailers made this film out to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller. But it isn’t. I would argue that it isn’t even the ‘gangster film’ that people believe it to be.

A Most Violent Year is a film about businessmen. It’s not a film about gun-toting gangsters like the title and marketing might suggest. This is an extremely quiet and understated film. Oscar Isaac is absolutely incredible in the role, channelling a young Godfather-era Al Pacino. After fantastic performances in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex_Machina and Drive; it’s no wonder Isaac was cast in one of the lead roles in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He’s truly one of the ones to watch at the moment and I hate to sound hipster, but…I liked him before it was cool! I jest, but I’ve been following him for many years and it’s nice to see him finally receive the recognition and the roles he deserves. Jessica Chastain continues her recent run of success with another great performance as Abel’s wife Anna, and the superb Albert Brooks (reuniting with his Drive co-star Isaac) delivers a brilliantly subtle performance as Abel’s attorney Andrew.

Despite the fine performances throughout, A Most Violent Year’s most key players are the crew. The cinematography is beautiful, perfectly conveying the cold and bleak time in which the film is set with muted, washed out colours. Every single frame in this film is art. Just stunning visuals throughout. But it is J.C. Chandor’s slow-burning and intelligent screenplay that truly makes this film a work of art. It is old-school storytelling – the critic who stated the film has ‘echoes of The Godfather’ is not wrong. If you’re expecting Scarface-esque shootouts, you’re in the wrong place. This is a story of businessmen who happen to be in a criminal world, not criminals who happen to be in the world of business! The film isn’t perfect, primarily due to a somewhat anti-climactic ending and some sub-plots that were dropped without conclusion creating a couple of plot holes. But these problems seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things – the film does far more right than wrong, and on the whole it’s a near-perfect film.

So, to conclude, is A Most Violent Year worth two hours of your time? If you like your films slow, sophisticated and bleak then yes. Absolutely. It’s a rich, lavishly produced drama. The cast are brilliant, especially Isaac who delivers one of the finest performances of his career so far. The film looks, feels and sounds elegant and dirty in equal measure. 1981 in NYC must’ve been a tough year. But if the film’s marketing has fooled you into thinking this is an action-packed gangster epic, then let me tell you it isn’t. Maybe you should stick to Scarface.

A Most Violent Year is a most compelling film, and earns a solid 4/5.


Sam Love

A Most Violent Year at CeX

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