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article imageReview: ‘A Most Violent Year’ is most excellent Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 30, 2015 in Entertainment
‘A Most Violent Year’ is a solid character drama in which its protagonist struggles to run a legitimate business while surrounded by criminal activity.
In 1981, violent crimes in New York reached an all-time high. Urban decay led to an increase in robberies and, consequently, violent crimes. It became dangerous to earn an honest living, but that didn’t stop people from trying. In A Most Violent Year, a business owner refuses to sink to the lows of his competitors even though his honour is slowly becoming his downfall.
Abel (Oscar Isaac) bought an oil supply business from his wife’s (Jessica Chastain) father, determined to compete with the larger companies by offering better service and lower prices. The success of his plan relies on the purchase of a storage facility near the water, where he’ll have direct access to supply ships and can stockpile oil during the off-season when prices are lower to use during the winter. However an FBI investigation into his business and frequent hijackings of his trucks jeopardize Abel’s entire future, making staying legitimate more difficult by the day.
This film feels a lot like an old school gangster movie — particularly because the boys club that operates in the area act like the mob — but it remains on the periphery of a traditional mafia narrative. Men have inexplicit conversations at the barber shop while getting a shave. Owners gather at the back of darkened restaurants to discuss business issues around a large table. There’s legitimate fear for Abel’s safety as his assassination would eliminate the pressure he’s placing on his competitors. But even under these circumstances Abel refuses to step outside the law, which is the key element that separates this film from others in the genre.
The development of Abel’s character within the picture is quite masterful. He is proud, but not to his detriment. He’s very intelligent and tenacious in all his endeavours. When faced with possible failure, he refuses to give in until every last option is exhausted. His relationship with his wife fluctuates as they consistently butt heads on ethical issues. Though never specific, it’s implied that her father is involved in illegal activities compelling her not to shun breaking the rules if it gets the job done.
Isaac and Chastain are outstanding in the character-driven narrative. While Abel almost always maintains a cool exterior, Isaac ensures audiences see the rollercoaster of emotions he is constantly battling. Conversely, Chastain is very expressive regardless of which sentiment she’s feeling. Though this film didn’t get any Oscar recognition, it remains a solid period drama with all the fixings of a great mob movie.
Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and David Oyelowo
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