The world needs fewer tasteful movies about distasteful things. It definitely doesn't need J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year, in which Oscar Isaac plays a nouveau-riche heating-oil baron in early-1980s New York, striving to maintain his principles amid industry corruption and generally scummy behavior. Isaac's Abel Morales skulks through most of the numbingly wayward two-hour runtime in a black turtleneck and camelhair coat, the trappings of a guy who has only recently been able to enjoy the finer things in life. His wife, Jessica Chastain's Anna, is a gangster's daughter but seems happy to tread the straight and narrow for the love of her husband: She's in charge of keeping the books, tippety-tapping figures into the adding machine with the eraser end of a pencil.
But the couple's business is under siege. Someone has been assaulting his drivers and making off with their trucks. Meanwhile, a nosy assistant district attorney (David Oyelowo) smells a rat and has decided to poke around in Abel's industry, which includes all manner of stereotypically penny-pinching Jews, fat guys with cigars, and faux-classy squash enthusiasts. Abel has the very noble and very boring job of looking everyone in the eye and speaking the truth, because someone's got to do it. Here and there Alex Ebert's score drones ominously, asking, "So, is this year violent enough for you yet?"
It's really just sort of...dumb. Chandor has set his third picture during what was statistically the most crime-ridden year in New York's history, 1981. That would have been all well and good, but where are all the people? A Most Violent Year is jarringly provincial; you can practically hear the tumbleweeds whistling.