A Most Violent Year (opening today) has the sound of a gritty crime thriller. What it is actually, is an ordinary film about ordinary people, who happen to get tangled up in an unlikely set of circumstances.
Directed by JC Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost), A Most Violent Year is his third film in three years. It is an original story set in 1981 New York, a year that is apparently the city’s most violent on record. It centers around a reserved but sharp-minded business man, Abel (Oscar Isaac) who is ambitiously trying to grow his heating oil supply company. He meets with a Jewish man (Jerry Adler) who agrees to sell him a key piece of property that will allow him access to the shore, which will in turn allow him to have a direct pipeline to incoming shipments of his product. He has thirty days to get the man the rest of his money, or he loses his deposit and the property.
Helped by his lawyer (Albert Brooks, playing it straight) and his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), Abel conducts business with the calm confidence of Michael Corleone. But hey, this is a movie set against the backdrop of the most violent year on record, so we know things aren’t going to go as planned.
When one of his oil trucks is stolen, it sets off a chain of events that puts Abel’s business ventures in danger. Meanwhile, he is being investigated by a local detective (Davide Oyelowo) for having cooked his books, and the bad rap associated with that makes some of his financial backers fret.
This is a slow-moving, slow-building drama that never really arrives at anything worthwhile. Sure, Isaac and Chastain turn in good performances, but forgettable ones. I couldn’t help but think that if this was the most violent year on record in New York City, surely there are more interesting things happening elsewhere.
Truth be told, I have yet to be wowed by a JC Chandor film. All three of his films have been solid, featuring strong performances, but they have all felt…hollow.
A Most Violent Year is one of those films that, considering the talent associated with it, just feels like it should have been better.
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours 5 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks
Written & Directed by J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost, Margin Call)
Opens locally on day, , 2014 (check for show times).