Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel, Alessandro Nivola
Plot: In 1981 New York, Abel Morales, an oil merchant, struggles to keep his business going as it gets hit financially, physically and legally.
Review: This film is basically about an immigrant's pursuit of the American dream during 1981 in New York, when crime is at a high rate and times are tough. The immigrant is Abel Morales, who at the start of this story, is already doing well as his oil business is starting to boom.
However, he finds himself being attacked on many fronts. Thugs have been robbing his oil trucks during transit. The D.A.'s office is bringing charges of fraud against his company due to his suspiciously high profits. All this makes Abel's bank nervous and he may very well lose the financial support he requires to purchase a key piece of property by the river for his company.
Director J.C. Chandor tells this story as simple as he can, so even if you know nothing about the oil business, you can follow it. It's 1981 during winter, and Chandor does well in authentically presenting the time period, from the vehicles to the clothing they wore, and he also films mostly in dim lighting, but not too dark. This successfully creates the mood he wants to convey to the audience. The music score by Alex Ebert is very good too, very fitting of the times.
The weight of the film falls on Oscar Isaac's shoulders as Abel Morales is in nearly every scene, and Isaac delivers tremendously. He plays Abel as an honest man trying to make an honest living, despite what most people think of him. He may be married to a mobster's daughter (played by Jessica Chastain) but it doesn't change the fact that he does everything by the book, even when his wife wants to take the by-any-means-necessary approach. Despite his desperate situation, Abel uses good manners and excellent negotiation skills to weather the storm, and throughout the film Isaac delivers in spades how all this happens.
Chastain plays his wife Anna with terrific ferocity, wanting so bad to break the rules to solve their problems, but still supports him and any decision he makes. It's a double edged character and she pulls it off well. David Oyelowo and Albert Brooks also do well in their supporting roles here, but make no mistake: this is Isaac's film.
The film may not appeal to those who don't like a heavy dialogue story, which is what this essentially is, though there is always tension in the air so I was riveted for the most part. I do feel that the way Chandor ties up the last loose end involving one of Abel's drivers didn't make very much sense, but it's a small complaint.
A Most Violent Year turned out to be better than I thought it would be. It may not be the kind of film everyone will enjoy with similar degree, but I say try seeing it for yourself. (8/10)