Movie Review–A Most Violent Year (2014)

A Most Violent Year
USA 2014

Written and Directed by J.C. Chandor
Starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Elyes Gabel, and David Oyelowo
2h 5min
Rated R for language and some violence

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Instant Video


A Most Violent Year surely caused a great deal of anger when it was released in theaters two years ago. I can only imagine the swarms of cinema-goers expecting a bloody shoot ’em up gangster flick, only to find themselves sitting through a movie with a body count of exactly two (it wasn’t hard for me to keep track). I skimmed IMDB to see what people thought. Here are some of the review headlines that I enjoyed:

  1. A most boring year??
  2. It’s like the Godfather, except nothing happens
  3. A most pretentious load of twaddle
  4. The most slowest year ever
  5. A most unfortunate title

I agree with the last one. I came in with a very distinct expectation and I must say that the title (and even more so the trailer) is incredibly misleading. But that’s where my negative criticism ends. This movie is marvelous, much better than what I expected, and far richer an experience than what I could have hoped for. At the risk of sounding like a bribed book reviewer, I’m going to say this movie was “enthralling”. And if that isn’t enough I’ll use another cliche and tell you that I was “on the edge of my seat” for the entire two hour runtime. It’s shitty writing, but it’s true. #sorrynotsorry

The movie is set in 1981, a really bad year for New York City in terms of crime statistics, but apparently a great one for fashion. In fact, if I could rename this movie I would call it A Most Fabulous Wardrobe, because both Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are dressed deliciously throughout. The allure doesn’t end at their attire though; the two stars slide into their roles as easily as they slide into their snazzy wool coats (yeah, SNAZZY). Their characters, Abel and Anna Morales, are not slick gangsters or helpless victims, although they easily could have been written this way. Instead they are real people. Real RICH people, but real nonetheless.

a-most-violent-year_612x380Abel is an entrepreneur on the verge of a major breakthrough in his business. He takes out a loan for a long sought after property, certain that it will lead to his success and a better life for his family. Yada yada yada. American dream. Plot plot plot. Complications arise, Abel gets screwed and needs more money.

So here’s the part where you would expect people to die, hits to be carried out, one-liners to be delivered with thick Italian/Russian accents, etc, etc. Not so. Instead Abel faces the situation like a sane person would. He takes out loans, he asks favors, he chases a fuel truck through a train tunnel at high speeds. Hmm, ok we all have our breaking point. Where Abel differs from most characters in his position is that he always keeps his perspective. He won’t kill for success. He repeatedly states that he isn’t a gangster. He does things the right way.

And that’s why this movie works. There’s plenty of intrigue, but the focus is on the family man. There are gangsters, but they take the backseat to the personal struggle of a father and business owner.

A Most Violent Year is not about the thrill of violence, but the threat of it. There is an omnipresent menace of peril. It seeps from the screen. It’s in the characters’ faces, the pace of the editing, the haunting score, and the sickly green cast of the photography. The camera itself exudes a sense of foreboding. It creeps. It looms. It approaches quietly and slowly like a stalker. Even after the movie ends and the conflict is resolved there is still a sense of imminent threat hanging in the air.


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