“A Most Violent Year” Movie Review

     Keep an eye on writer/director J.C. Chandor in the upcoming future.  Over the course of three feature films, Chandor has displayed not only an immense amount of talent, he also has shown the ability to produce quality work in three completely different genres which shows incredible range.  While most filmmakers tend to stick with the kind of films that made them successful in the first place, Chandor followed up his feature debut, the recession drama “Margin Call”, with “All Is Lost”, a harrowing take on a man’s grueling experience alone and stranded in the middle of the ocean on a sail boat in which the film’s star, Robert Redford, utters just a few words of dialogue during the entire film.  As different as both of Chandor’s first two features were, they shared in common the traits of a master craftsman.  A filmmaker with a budding talent, sharing his very different creations with the world.  The same can be said of Chandor’s third feature, “A Most Violent Year”, which stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.

     “A Most Violent Year”, taken at face value, has the appearance of a “Godfather” like mob film, but yet again Chandor’s take on early 1980s organized crime proves to be a completely different animal and yields no comparison to really any film of the past.  Brooding and moody, the scenery in New York City seems to always be overcast and dimly lit, setting an appropriate stage for the events which are about to take place.  Oscar Isaac’s Abel Morales is the owner of a fuel and oil supply company whose business relies on tanker trucks making delivers throughout Manhattan.  At the time of the story, a power struggle has ensued between competing businesses where it seems no one currently has the upper hand, but Abel is intent on making a move that will catapult him and his business to the top.

     When we first meet Abel and his attorney, Andrew (Albert Brooks), they are in the process of making a deal in which the company will buy a massive seaside oil and fuel tank facility that will allow them to receive and store fuel directly from the ships that deliver to the east coast.  The deal is coveted by a number of Abel’s competitors, but he is chosen by the sellers likely because of his ability to pay forty percent up front in cash and is willing to close the deal quickly.  We’re never as an audience really given a detailed look into Abel’s business practices, but early in the film we do learn an ambitious district attorney, Lawrence (David Oyelowo), has begun the process of bringing charges against him that seem to point toward tax evasion and other financial related crimes.  With all of this pressure on him, the situation begins to get worse when his truckers begin to be victimized by armed robbers who brutally take the trucks from the drivers while they’re on their routes and steal the valuable fuel inside.

     As pressure from the union chief to allow his drivers to carry illegal firearms to protect themselves begins to mount, it would seem Abel’s entire world is beginning to fall apart.  But that’s where you would be wrong.  Abel is without a doubt one of the most interesting and unique movie characters to come along in quite some time.  Through a series of situations Chandor smartly weaves into the early parts of the narrative, we learn Abel conducts himself in a very honorable and straight forward manner.  Regardless of the situation at hand, he refuses to change his philosophy of how he handles his business or how he deals with people. The guy simply never loses his cool and refuses to resort to violence, even when it may seem to be the best solution. Not surprisingly, he frequently must deal with the constant prodding of his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), who seems to tire of her husband’s sometimes too lenient way of working through problems.  She feels he isn’t standing up for himself, the family, or the business, but as we get to know Abel better, we realize this isn’t the case.  As the pressure mounts, Abel seems to thrive without selling himself out.  He’s the rare and classic character who is able to come out on top simply by taking the high road.

     Chandor’s film isn’t complex in its plotting and doesn’t contain the kind of twists that will have an audience gasp in surprise.  “A Most Violent Year” is about the characters and clearly takes on the tone and pace set by Abel as he attempts to navigate through the various problems caused by those around him, particularly his competitors who are stealing from him in an effort to stop his purchase of the facility that will in turn make his business prosper and ascend to new heights.  Though the film didn’t garner any Academy Award nominations and didn’t fare well in any of the other notable awards shows (Chastain received a Supporting Actress nomination from the Golden Globes), Chandor’s work here is certainly awards worthy.  He has effectively created his own take on the organized crime genre with characters who feel original, rather than playing like a knock off of characters from “The Sopranos” or “The Godfather”.  As we know, this is no easy task.  Just another reason why I would keep an eye on this guy.  What he comes up with next could be truly special.  GRADE: B