Title: A Most Violent Year
If You Can Make It There... You can make it anywhere. Might take a pistol whipping or two while you're at it, though.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Baseball Furies out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Heating oil executive is an honorable man. As are they all, honorable men.
Tagline: "The result is never in question, just the path you take to get there."
Better Tagline: "This city could really use a few Starbucks."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis:Truly, 1981 was one of the most violent years in New York City's history (not counting when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup). Murders, assaults, and rapes had tripled in 25 years and the city's overall crime rate was almost 70 percent greater than the rest of the country's. It's in the framework of these pleasant circumstances that businessman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is attempting to a) nail down a loan for a larger facility for his heating oil enterprise, and b) deal with hijackers who are targeting his tanker trucks.
"Critical" Analysis: A Most Violent Year is a real throwback; a gritty, unhurried reminder of the 70s era films of Friedkin and Lumet, mostly highlighting dialogue and atmosphere over theatrics. It's a bold effort, but one that doesn't always succeed.
Writer/director J.C. Chandor spends a great deal of time (almost the entire movie) leading his audience in one direction before ending up, if not in an entirely different area, at least one we weren't expecting to find ourselves. It's to Chandor and Isaac's credit that while we get early hints that Morales may be up to no good -- impending criminal charges, ominous suggestions that his company may not be on the level -- they keep us guessing right to the end.
The movie also draws some interesting parallels to modern times. Today, the security industry is booming because -- all evidence to the contrary -- people believe they're under siege and that violence is just around the corner. In 1981, it really was, and New Yorkers were rightfully ponying up for protection. Abel Morales has the unenviable task of both trying to succeed in this environment and not succumbing to the fear threatening his livelihood.
Title aside, there's not a lot of violence in A Most Violent Year. Morales hits a deer with his car, and one of his driver's is beaten during a robbery early on (the driver is played by Elyes Gabel, that jerkoff from Scorpion, so you don't really feel too badly). There's also a shootout at one point ... okay, it actually is pretty violent. Good thing Giuliani eventually cleaned everything up by Disneyfying Time Square and putting the homeless in camps.
I may be slightly misinformed on that last one.
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Albert Brooks is welcome in a relatively straight role, well, as straight as a 1980s NYC lawyer could be. And while Chastain is getting understandable recognition as the ruthlessly pragmatic Anna (who's the real villain here, you may wonder), it's Isaac who perfectly plays the slow burn of a man who can't catch even the remotest break. Is Morales a Michael Corleone-esque gangster in boardroom clothing? Or is he that rarest of breeds, an honest businessman?
I don't have any firsthand knowledge of what NYC looked like at the time (I use The Warriors and Fort Apache, The Bronx as my templates), but Chandor's movie - all earth tones, porn 'staches, plastic covered couches and graffiti -- seems legit, as they say. The setting is used to great extent, the craftsmanship is undeniable, and the performances are fine all around, but while Chandor is obviously striving to say something about character and integrity, he drops the ball -- almost irredeemably -- when characters ultimately act in clichéd or improbable ways.
Then again, it's difficult for me to actively root against a movie that opens with a Marvin Gaye song.
A Most Violent Year is in theaters today. And my vagabond shoes are longing to stray.