3.5 stars
In J,C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, a man finds himself battling the elements in the middle of the ocean after his yacht is holed by a floating shipping container and in his Margin Call another momentous storm is raging, this one in NYC’s financial district on the eve of the Global Financial Crisis.
Now, in Chandor’s latest film, A Most Violent Year, a man once again finds himself caught in a tempest which is just as unpredictable, battling his crooked competitors while trying not to resort to illegality. This is New York City in 1981, a year that saw the highest number of homicides in the Big Apple’s history and in which law and order was breaking down wherever you looked. Once again the central character in Chandor’s self-penned morality tale is pushed to the limit in his attempts to make things work for him, his wife, his family and his business.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis) is an immigrant businessman on the cusp of cutting a deal with local Orthodox Jewish land-owners to purchase a piece of waterfront land that looks over the river to the skyline of Manhattan. He is given thirty days to come up with the balance or else he will lose not only the site, but his sizeable deposit as well. He is liked by the group, as he is deemed to be an honest man, but these guys have never let affection muddy a deal. Abel owns a small company selling and delivering heating oil and the site comes with storage facilities and a reasonable amount of the liquid gold he requires for his business, so he’ll be sitting pretty if he can pull this contract off. His wife Anna (Jessica Chastain – Interstellar), who happens to be a gangster’s daughter and the keeper of the company’s books, is equally fixated by the lure of the deal and the riches it will bring.

To add to his woes, somebody is hijacking his trucks and stealing his fuel and he is being harassed by Lawrence (David Oyelowo – Selma), the local District Attorney, who’s investigating corruption in the heating oil industry. Abel is straight and determined to stay that way, but he knows he’s in a dirty business and the temptation to fight fire with fire is always in reach. His wife is on side up to a point, happily supporting his climb up the business ladder, but she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to keep their ambitions alive. She’s certainly not averse to the advantages of wealth, sporting a fabulous wardrobe (thanks to Armani) and happily moving the family into a very modern, very big, new mansion.

A Most Violent Year is a gripping drama that utilises some of the practices of film noir, in that we find an ordinary man fighting against a set of extraordinary forces railed against him, and the story unfolds incrementally, gradually revealing the big picture. There are no special CGI effects, only one car chase and very little gunfire and yet it is extremely tense and the atmosphere completely foreboding. It’s aided in this by Alex Ebert’s (All Is Lost) distinctive score and Bradford Young’s (Selma) claustrophobic lensing. New York is perfectly captured as the graffiti-riddled metropolis of the ‘80s that it was, thanks to John P. Goldsmith’s (also part of the All Is Lost crew) accurate production design. The performances are all excellent; Isaac’s compelling character battles his demons with a measured, almost distracted air, while Chastain gives yet another terrific performance. It’s a far cry from her role as the forceful interrogator chasing after Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, but just as feisty. This is a film that will be enjoyed by audiences willing to spend two hours in the cinema following a script that requires time and concentration, but will amply reward the effort.


Previewed at the Roadshow Theatre, Sydney, on 17 February 2015


Oscar Isaac
Jessica Chastain
David Oyelowo
Albert Brooks

J.C. Chandor

J.C. Chandor



125 minutes

February 26, 2015
A Most Violent Year (2014) on IMDb