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A Most Violent Year

2015-05-22 08:55

What it's about:

A searing crime drama set in New York City during the winter of 1981, the most dangerous year in the city’s history. The gripping story plays out within a maze of rampant political and industry corruption plaguing the streets of a city in decay, highlighting one immigrant’s determined climb up a morally crooked ladder, where simmering rivalries and unprovoked attacks threaten his business, family, and, above all, his unwavering belief in the righteousness of his own path.

What we thought:

In 1981, New York experienced its most violent year in history, making for an ideal background for any film. Not only does it deal with the violence begetting violence fuelled by fear and paranoia, A Most Violent Year also creates a sombre image of the old 'American Dream', a notion that has long since been killed by Fitzgerald, and the moralistic pitfalls that come with trying to attain that dream.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a businessman in the fuel industry who tries to keep his hands and his business as clean as possible. Unfortunately, no one else seems to want to follow his example as he tries to secure a deal that could make or break him.  Between his competitors, the DA (David Oyelowo) and his wife (Jessica Chastain), his moral compass takes a lot of strain, exasperated by one of his employees beaten up during a fuel heist.

The lead character is very clearly set up to evoke sympathy from the audience – the one good guy to root for in the face of corruption. But as the film progresses, you realise that moral compass is a mask for his absolute devotion to his company. At one point it felt like he cared more about his oil than his wife, who is a devious being, and you lose your reverence for him. This is mirrored by one of his employees (Elyes Gabel), an immigrant himself and the same in his ambition for success, but life threw him one too many curveballs. His life shows Abel how easily his life could’ve take a different path. On the road to success, the American Dream becomes tainted regardless of your moralistic intentions.

His wife, on the other hand, has no qualms about doing what is needed to survive. I am not sure whether I despise her character because of how she is written or whether she is tainted by my dislike for Chastain. Seeing as she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, I assume the general feel is that she is a great actress, but her style grates me in whichever role she plays.

Set and costume design exuded the grittiness of the 80s, amplified by intimate shots and sweeping wide shots of the city. The dirt and grime augmented the filth of the fuel industry, physically and metaphorically. Director/writer J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost) continued his slow-paced style, creating stunted suspense more through the character’s dialogue than action.

Not a film for the masses, A Most Violent Year is a film made for critics, and those who revel in cinematic glory. Slow-paced and without any solid main antagonists, you might catch yourself dozing off before getting drawn back in by a sudden spurt of violence.

Read more on:    david oyelowo  |  jessica chastain  |  movies

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