A Most Violent Year (2014)

R   |    |  Crime, Drama, Thriller


A Most Violent Year (2014) Poster

In New York City 1981, an ambitious immigrant fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city's history.

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  • Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year (2014)
  • J.C. Chandor and Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year (2014)
  • Bradford Young at an event for A Most Violent Year (2014)
  • Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year (2014)
  • A Most Violent Year (2014)
  • David Oyelowo and Bradford Young in A Most Violent Year (2014)

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28 January 2015 | jdesando
He's Pacino without the edge. One of best crime thrillers in years.
It's 1981 NYC, and it's not American Hustle. A Most Violent Year is set in the most brutal year in the city's history, when Mayor Koch and the DA would not like it to be so. While Hustle sets the scene with humor and style, Violent is happy to understate lawlessness and concentrate on the dialogue, which has undercurrents of corruption in each syllable.

Oscar Isaac plays immigrant, oil delivery company owner, Abel Morales, with an Al-Pacino veneer that goes low key, not Godfather or Scarface operatic. His double-breasted suits and ever-present camel overcoat suggest the smooth, verbal, charismatic, but unassuming business owner who wants to be as straight as his wardrobe. It's a difficult ideal because someone is hijacking his oil trucks and selling the oil on the black market.

What to do? His wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), beautiful but born to a crime family, is at times more ready to deal with the sabotage in a traditional mob way than her husband is. But Morales deals with it in a civilized, diplomatic way that of course makes him and his employees vulnerable to the rude, irrational hoodlums.

Director J.C. Chandor knows minimalist dialogue, apparent in his All is Lost, where Robert Redford gives out with one line but an Oscar worthy performance anyway. Much more dialogue here, still minimal, but it has the David Mamet attention to the power of each word.

In a world Sidney Lumet depicted quite well, everyone has a brush with lawlessness, from truck drivers to cops to politicians—no one is exempt, except maybe Morales, who tries to do the "best right" thing in the face of pressure to use violence as the tried-and-true technique. That's why this is such a sweet action, crime drama: You can identify with the protagonist and not be bogged down by gratuitous violence.

This is one of the best action-crime dramas in years. Isaac is Pacino without his edginess; Chandor's dialogue is soft Mamet, a welcome substitute for rude bullets. Indeed, while the film is titled A Most Violent Year, it is not the most violent movie. Leave that to Martin Scorsese.

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