UK Release Date: 23rd January 2015
Runtime: 125 minutes
Director: JC Chandor
Writer: JC Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo
Synopsis: A couple attempt to run a legitimate oil company in the midst of one of the most violent periods of modern American history.
When the hopefuls for Oscars 2015 were first being discussed last year, a common name in the race was A Most Violent Year. The film is JC Chandor’s follow-up to acclaimed Robert Redford drama All Is Lost and follows shady business dealings in an age of violence and chicanery.
Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) runs a fledgling heating oil company that is looking to expand into bigger premises. However, in a world of crime, he must deal with the regular hijacking of his trucks and a criminal investigation into his financial affairs led by ADA Lawrence (David Oyelowo). Increasingly, Abel’s wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) attempts to nudge him towards more nefarious tactics.
A Most Violent Year is a film that tells its story through tone as opposed to dialogue. The story, on the face of it, is a fairly uninteresting tale of oil trading, light financial fraud and loan negotiations. However, JC Chandor imbues with the film with an unsettling feel of foreboding. There’s always the sense that Abel’s empire could come crashing down around him at any moment.
| "When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump."
Oscar Isaac, as Abel, makes for a terrifically controlled lead performer. Here, Isaac is free of the noisier aspects of some of his more extravagant roles, such as recently in Ex Machina, and reins everything in to great effect. All of the flashiness is reserved for Jessica Chastain, who steals the show as Abel’s wife, who is far more open-minded and savvy to the world of crime than her straight-laced husband.
Unfortunately, JC Chandor’s script for A Most Violent Year seems largely uninterested in Chastain’s character. Every time her stake in the narrative looks set to expand and she takes a step into the spotlight, Chandor’s camera shrinks away from her, preventing the performance from reaching its true potential. It is perhaps that issue that got between Chastain and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
In fact, it’s shocking how little the film manages to explore of its world given the expansive two-hour length. A Most Violent Year wants to be the kind of ponderous, plodding drama that pleases the Academy, but as a result, it shoots itself in the foot. Huge swathes of the running time pass by with very little of incident happening only for a handful of exposition to be dolloped in almost at random. There are enormous problems with pacing here.
| "If I were you, I would start treating us with a little more respect or I guarantee he will make it his mission in life to ruin you."
Overall, despite its flaws, A Most Violent Year is an intriguing story, even if it never manages to build the momentum it needs. The performances are strong and JC Chandor showcases real mastery of tone, but it really needed a shot of adrenaline right to its heart.
Pop or Poop?
A Most Violent Year is a long way from perfect. JC Chandor has failed to keep up the momentum of his previous works, but there is a really interesting film lurking underneath the cold, clinical shell.
Oscar Isaac is excellent and Jessica Chastain does a cracking job with the meagre material she is handed, even if the film doesn’t seem as interested in the character as the audience is.
It couldn’t have hurt to make it a bit more exciting though. Just a couple of gunshots?
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.