By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, this slow simmering period piece had me engaged and engrossed for almost all of the film’s run time. Then, in the last act of the story, it takes a serious “WTF?” moment that pretty much negates all of the drama and thrills that took place before it. Chandor does have an undeniable talent and flair for directing, almost perfectly capturing an era from a little over thirty years ago. He also proves himself when it comes to writing solid dialogue and developing his characters. However, it still baffles me that one singular choice he makes near his story’s conclusion derails all of his exceptional work in the rest of the movie.
A Most Violent Year takes place in New York during the winter of 1981. This particular time is considered to be one of the most violent times in the city’s history. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), owner of a legitimate heating oil business struggles to successfully run his company while hijackings of his delivery trucks occur on a regular basis. With a shady past and a wife (Jessica Chastain) who also comes from a criminal family, Morales remains adamant about never bending the rules or breaking any laws. However, as things worsen for his company and more trucks and drivers are victimized, Morales discovers corruption and criminal activity within the so-called legitimate business world.
I have the utmost faith that J.C. Chandor has it in him to deliver an extraordinary masterpiece. I do love his dialogue and the development of his stories and characters, but he takes a huge risk with a little surprise that frustrated me to no end. Sometimes gambles in stories pay off. This one does not. Still, everything else leading up to this moment is golden. I can definitely see the influence of Sidney Lumet’s Serpico on this story. Both movies present a respectable protagonist drowning in a sea of corruption. Chandor’s thrilling and tense moments also work rather effectively making the film’s ending even more frustrating.
Well, that should be enough griping about my main issue with this movie. I will remain focused on the more positive aspects. As usual, Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain deliver stellar performances. Whenever I see their names credited prior to viewing a movie, I know I am in for a treat and so far they haven’t disappointed. In this particular movie, Chastain definitely is a stand-out. She offers an exceptional turn here as the tough, no-nonsense Mrs. Morales, a woman whose father happens to be a gangster type. Though the audience never actually gets to see the father often mentioned, Chastain makes the father’s non-appearance unnecessary. She radiates strength and will and has no trouble taking charge of matters when she see’s fit. There is no doubt whatsoever who really wears the pants in that marriage. She only lets Abel think he is the alpha.
So despite my negative feelings regarding this movie, I do find it to be a piece interesting enough to recommend as a rental or future viewing on pay TV. It does have enough going for it to make it a mostly compelling 125 minutes, but no one can say I didn’t warn them about some disappointment with how it all pans out.