By Sean Cordy
During the first two months of the year, it is rare to see a great movie in theaters. After making its rounds in December’s limited release circuit, J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” has finally hit Waco theaters, offering fresh air to moviegoers. It may have missed out on the Oscars, but that doesn’t indicate the film’s value.
“A Most Violent Year” oozes atmosphere, leaving you entranced by its image. The 1980s crime drama evokes memories of hard winters in the northern U.S., and focuses on the most violent year in New York City’s history.
The only brutal violence we see is the hijacking of trucks, but the inner battles of immigrant business owner Abel (Oscar Issac) presents viewers with more than enough contention.
Chandor examines the often contested morality of man through Abel, pushing him to his limits to see just how far someone will go to achieve the American Dream. Early on, we see the powerful status that Abel has attained through the heating oil business, as he buys a new house and is on a first-name basis with the district attorney (David Oyelowo). Abel’s close relationship with the DA subjects his company to searches for criminal activity – just one of many things ready to make him snap.
What follows the police investigations of Abel’s home and business is his company’s latest transaction being put on the wire, familial struggle and a series of cowardly hijackings of his company’s trucks. In the end, Chandor uses the film to question whether the outcome was worth all that happens from the first frame to the last.
Though directors aren’t usually as popular as actors, having Chandor’s name attached to a project should be an immediate indication of quality. In only his third film, he’s able to attract high-profile names like Isaac (“Robin Hood”), Jessica Chastain (“The Help”, “Interstellar”), and Albert Brooks (“Drive”). Chandor’s film maturity is that of a seasoned director. Without his hand guiding it all, this could have been a terrible made-for-TV film. Instead, it’s a slow-burning character study, melting away the icy atmosphere of New York City in 1981.
Isaac’s performance is certainly a highlight of the film, showing great restraint and nuance in Abel. There’s a scene that should hit home for many college students in which he’s completely broken down, begging for a loan, and signs his name for a line of credit. We think we have it all together, but then when that dotted line takes control of you. It is broken moments like this that humanize the film.
Add a brooding synthesizing score to match equally impressive cinematography, and you have quite the film on your hands. Admittedly, it’s not a film for everyone; some may find it to be too slow and cynical.
From a filmmaking stance though, there are few directors as visionary and pure as Chandor, and “A Most Violent Year” is testament to that.