The year is 1981, New York, and Oscar Isaac’s Abel is looking to move his heating oil business into an upsized riverside location. But, a spree of attacks on his truck drivers is threatening to foil the move. Abel suspects a number of his competitors but, as an upstanding businessman, he refuses to stoop to their gangster levels.
This is tale of a rags-to-riches American forced into a world of crime . . . and it’s utterly brilliant.
J.C. Chandor’s (writer-director) plotting is methodical, but deceptively gripping. He paces the drama exquisitely, delivering a slow-build crescendo injected with a number of heart-racing, but low-key, action sequences that really showcase the exquisite period detail.
As a result, you get the feeling the whole film is swelling to something unimaginable . . . and unsustainable.
Abel’s deeply-rooted, if not entirely squeaky clean, moral compass is explored with fascinating results and Isaac’s achieves great depth of character with even the faintest mannerisms. His performance is immensely well-judged and the supporting roles are filled impressively with a number of tremendous performers. Jessica Chastain’s Lady Macbeth-esque wife is a particular highlight.
But this is Abel’s movie, and we’re led to question just how many men fought for the twisted crown of capitalism that is modern-day America. And, how many were simply crushed under its sunlight-sapping boot.
A Most Violent Year feels like a movie from a bygone age of searing crime dramas. The 125 minutes passes as if it were 150 or even 160 but, for once, that is no criticism. This feels big . . . huge, in fact. And it’s a story that deserves to take its sweet time. A true epic.