A Most Violent Year

Director: J.C. Chandor (2015)

Visually and morally murky, this brooding New York crime thriller throws insubstantial punches from behind interesting shadows.

Shy on story this is a sombre exploration of the compromises necessary in perpetuating the myth of the American Dream.

In 1981 Oscar Isaac‘s immigrant self-made businessman, Abel, has put down a huge cash deposit to buy a derelict dockside property to expand his oil interests.

When David Oyelowo‘s District Attorney charges Abel for fraud and tax evasion, the bank refuse to loan Abel the money to complete his deal.

With seven days to raise the cash or lose everything he’s worked, Abel runs around the decaying, filthy and graffitied streets for meetings in back-rooms and barbershops.

Meanwhile his truckers and salespeople are being beaten up by rivals and his family are being threatened in their new home.

Jessica Chastain captivates as Abel’s beautiful and mob-connected wife, Anna, but she’s mostly there to spur him on and cook the books on his behalf.

Abel is naively unaware of his own inconsistencies with corruption and violence taking him by surprise, despite being mobbed up to the eyeballs and knowingly guilty as charged.

Everything is captured in a low key register: the lighting, the performances, the mood. It’s carefully calculated but struggles under its weighty self importance.

Brian De Palma’s gaudy masterpiece Scarface is deliberately referenced in Chastain’s icy style and the synthesised score, but this has none of the energy, bling, coke, violence or fun.

Only occasionally violent and taking place over a mere thirty three days, A Most Violent Year is a mis-named disappointment.

★★☆☆☆

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