release date: 30 January 2015 (Canada)
run time: 125 mins
considered: Action, Crime, Drama
director: J.C. Chandlor
starring: Oscar Issac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Peter Gerety, Christopher Abbott, Ashley Williams, John Procaccino, Glenn Fleshler, Jerry Adler, Annie Funke, Matthew Maher
movie summary: New York City has always had the reputation of being a tough place to live. The local government tries really hard to clean up the streets but the crime and murder rates remain high. Like most times in history, there’s always a high point and a low point. The year 1981 will go down as one of the worst times in the city’s illustrious history. Abel Morales (Oscar Issac) is a young entrepreneur in the oil industry, who is trying to grow his company but his trucks are always under attack. While dealing with his beat up work crew, the DEA’s lead investigator Lawrence (David Oyelowo) is trying to bust Abel and his wife Anne (Jessica Chastain) for illegal business practices. In an attempt to live out the American Dream, Abel will have to go to great lengths to protect his family and business without resorting to violence, the one thing that is currently ruining his life.
my thoughts: The first thing I want to get off my chest about A Most Violent Year is it actually doesn’t have a lot of violence in it. The trailer would make you think that each month of the year is deadly and that some months are worse than others. This is not a mafia movie, a gang movie, or a movie where a lot of people die, but instead a story about the struggles of dealing with violence that threatens to destroy everything. Despite not being any of those movies, A Most Violent Year is an amazing story about one man’s desires to build an empire and protect what matters most to him in one of the city’s worse times.
I went into this movie not to see the story but to watch the performances of Jessica Chastain and Oscar Issac. These two are serious diamonds in the rough for Hollywood, who never really get enough credit for their performances. The best part for me was watching Issac play the role of Abel Morales. He fit the part perfectly thanks to the hair cut, five o’clock facial hair, and personality. He dressed like he was rich and powerful which allowed him to portray a much bigger character then he really was. As a guy who has played by the rules the whole time, Abel stands firmly behind his decision to never turn violent despite his crumbling business. Behind his professional look, there is a man who is filled with good intentions and a big heart to take care of those who have been injured. I thought Issac was able to capture the character in a certain light and present him in a way that would grow on us as the story progressed.
This story may focus on Issac’s character, but one can’t help but admire Chastain’s character as the straw that stirs the drink. In some ways she’s the brains behind the whole operation because she keeps the books, all the while being the one who keeps Abel grounded at work and at home. Her style and grace is what you would expect from a rich high-class woman, but she does have a chip on her shoulder which turns out to have a massive impact on the outcome of the movie. No matter what she does though Abel will love her because she is his wife and mother of his children. He vows never to look weak around her because of who her father is, which forces him to bust his ass to keep his high maintenance wife happy.
I don’t have anything against Albert Brooks, I’ve just never been a fan of him and some of the movies he’s been in. He plays Abel’s best friend and lawyer here, who spends the majority of the movie playing both sides of every deal. His actions leave you guessing sometimes if he’s going to betray his friend or that he’s just playing the agencies. His character serves a meaningful purpose to the overall story but he wouldn’t have been missed if there was no such character. The only other character worth mentioning is Elyes Gabel as Julian. This spanish speaking truck driver suffers through the worse of the beatings and decides to take matters into his own hands, which only adds more complication to the story. His actions forces Abel’s hand in a variety of ways which cause even more stress and tension on an already rattled lead character.
The final thing I enjoyed about this movie was the time period it was set in. I really liked how the production crew went above and beyond to portray life in 1981. Everything from cars, buildings, and the clothes were spot on. It allowed me to get into the movie, follow the story, and come to like the characters.
my final thoughts: There will be two types of people who go see this movie, those who expect lots of violence and those who go in to see performances of Oscar Issac and Jessica Chastain. Some will love this movie and appreciate the story while others will leave disappointed. Armed with standout performances and a great setting A Most Violent Year was worth the price of admission and worthy of being recommended.
my star rating: 7 out 10
imdb: 7.3 out 10
rottentomatoes: 90% out 100%
roger ebert: 3 out 4
richard crouse: 3 out 5