Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – A Most Violent Year (DVD Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 18.05.2015

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – A Most Violent Year (DVD Movie Review)

A Most Violent Year (UK Rating: 15)

From the financial crash to a solo sailor drifting in the ocean to a businessman under pressure in New York. Director and writer J. C. Chandor never goes back over the same ground, picking subject matters that are poles apart. After his star-studded debut, Margin Call (2011), he went to the other extreme by casting Robert Redford adrift in an open boat for All is Lost (2013). Now he's changed direction again with A Most Violent Year, a crime drama set in The Big Apple in 1981, a year that's described by the film's title. It's released on DVD this Monday, 18th May.
Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – A Most Violent Year (DVD Movie Review)

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) have lived and breathed the heating oil business they inherited from her father and it's starting to become a success. However, staying on the right side of the law has been a struggle, even if Abel's instincts are towards honesty. The market is brutally competitive and the company's rivals have started hi-jacking their trucks and stealing the cargo, so Abel and Anna are faced with a difficult choice: stay clean and go under, or play dirty and survive.

While there's a powerful moral dilemma at the heart of the film, it's overlaid with more than a smear of a gangster movie, especially when it comes to the leading man. As Abel, Oscar Isaac evokes the spirit of a young Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather, firstly because of a passing physical resemblance but, more importantly, through his measured, even tone of voice. Both are being dragged into doing things they don't want to, as well. The difference is that Abel manages to straddle the line between the right and wrong sides of the law, most of the time, occasionally dipping a toe into one camp or the other. He's also a more sympathetic character, caring for the staff members that get beaten up by the hi-jackers, and hesitating when he's faced with the opportunity to kill one of the culprits.


 
If anybody has a criminal mentality, it's his wife Anna, who has more than a touch of Lady Macbeth about her, and a ruthless streak a mile wide. While the film starts out as a double act between her and her husband, though, she disappears for a large section in the middle, leaving Abel to take centre stage. It doesn't suffer as such from her absence, but her return to the action does give the film a lift, which says something about the chemistry between the two main actors.

As ever, Chandor has chosen his cast to perfection. Since the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac has been in constant demand and is one of the most versatile actors around (The Two Faces of January, Ex Machina). He and Jessica Chastain make a convincing couple, full of contrasts but, to the outside world, looking like the ultimate American dream with their beautiful house and immaculately tailored coats. Alongside them is Selma's David Oyelowo, playing the District Attorney that is investigating the Morales, and who is just as morally ambiguous as his target.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – A Most Violent Year (DVD Movie Review)

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
A Most Violent Year starts steadily, layering the tension to deliver an engrossing crime drama with the emphasis on character. Chandor has made it three out of three thanks to his unerring ability to pick a strong story and populate it with interesting characters played by exactly the right actors. This isn't a film that suffers from being watched on the small screen, either. If anything, it adds to the tension.

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