MOVIE REVIEW: A MOST VIOLENT YEAR / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: J.C. CHANDOR / SCREENPLAY: J.C. CHANDOR / STARRING: OSCAR ISAAC, JESSICA CHASTAIN, ALBERT BROOKS, DAVID OYELOWO, ELYES GABEL / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 23RD
First things first, that title's completely misleading. The Most Stressful Month would be far more accurate considering the entirety of the events in this 1980's drama by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost) take place in the 30 day period Abel Morales (Isaac) has to pay off the cost of a New York oil yard before his deposit, his family's life savings, are forfeit. In that time, he has to deal with hijackers attacking his oil delivery trucks, disgruntled teamsters, flighty bank managers, a district attorney investigating his business for corruption, power plays by rival oil companies and the rising temptation to give in to violence and corruption to resolve his issues, something he has strived to resist his entire life. Matters are further complicated by wife Anna's (Chastain) much hinted at crime family background and the threat that if Abel doesn't handle this, she and her family will. Paralleling Abel's trials, truck driver Julian (Gabel) tries to handle his own demons, with some help from Abel after receiving a savage beating when his oil delivery truck is hijacked.
The film has a very arresting style; Chandor has nailed a classy look for New York in 1981 whilst avoiding major landmarks and clichés, mostly staying to truck yards, offices back alleys and family homes. Chastain and Albert Brooks, as Abel's attorney, provide excellent performances but the film really belongs to Oscar Isaac. He's in almost every single scene and Abel's struggles are clear on his face throughout. The repeated line of "I know that" becomes a repeated mantra as all around him Abel's friends, family, colleagues and even possible enemies try to explain their reasoning why he needs to resort to violence or otherwise compromise his ideals, but it is they who don't understand him. Abel already understands all this; he knows all the risks and options available but he needs to prove to himself and this city that there is another way.
While Isaac's performance roots the film, there are still some issues. That excellent but expectation-setting title does the movie no favours, setting up the audience to expect a lot more violence than it actually contains. Yes, there is more than should be reasonably expected by a family man and business owner, but with all the shady, violent goings on around them it is surprising that more violence doesn't impinge more directly on Abel's family. The film also suffers slightly from hinting at more interesting elements repeatedly and then not exploring them. Chastain's crime family background, the shady dealings that may have underpinned the success of Morales' business, and possible shady dealings yet to come, all give the film the feeling of the middle chapter in an unseen trilogy.
A slightly different type of crime drama that's a little light on the violent crime.
Expected Rating: 9 out of 10
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