We saw it. We loved it. And here is why you’ll love it too.
By Troy-Jeffrey Allen
A Most Violent Year — J.C. Chandor’s period crime-drama about what is arguably the worst year to be a New Yorker — finally came to our city after a rather lengthy limited release. After seeing the film we kind of regret not making part of our “Best of 2014” list, but we figure we can make up for it now by letting you know that you REALLY should go check this one out.
Taking place in 1981, A Most Violent Year stars the always spot-on Oscar Issac as Abel Morales, the owner of a modest heating oil company in New York City. Unfortunately for Abel, because 1981 was indeed such a violent time in the history of America’s greatest city, Abel’s business is the constant target of truck hijackings. This causes his company to bleed money, but more importantly it indicates a turf war between Standard Oil (Abel’s company) and his competitors. One that runs the risk of becoming increasingly violent if Abel doesn’t get tough on the perpetrators and, ultimately, the rival oil companies responsible.
But why SHOULD YOU go see it? Oh, I think I can come up with maybe 5 good reasons…
1. Oscar Issac continues to give amazing performance after amazing performance.
Oscar Issac (Drive, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) has already established himself as one hell of an actor, but it’s his ability to put A Most Violent Year on his back that really makes this movie so phenomenal. So much of the film is centered around Abel’s refusal to stoop to the criminal level, and Issac carries that weight throughout the entire film — doing something that is rare in crime films: Making the audience root for the good guy.
2. It’s a uniquely emotional journey.
A Most Violent Year makes it a point to keep the viewer invested in Morales. Abel’s moral code is endlessly ridiculed by the people closest to him and constantly tested by his enemies. Oddly enough, while this makes the film incredibly frustrating to watch at times, it also allows filmmaker J.C. Chandor to slowly build the tension around his characters. What are their motives? Who is lying? Who is telling the truth? Unexpectedly, A Most Violent Year turns into one of the most suspenseful films of last year.
3. Seriously, the film looks gorgeous.
Much has been said about cinematographer Bradford Young’s work in A Most Violent Year and the praise is totally spot on. From the tinted 1980s color tones to the foot chase through the city, Young has made one of the slickest looking movies in recent memory. The film looks and feels like it actually was made in the period it takes place in, as opposed to fooling no one by having all the actors wear stupid wigs (**coughAMERICANHUSTLEcough***).
4. Nothing in the film feels forced.
During a season rife with would-be Oscar contenders bending over backwards to hit every single emotional mark a movie can hit, A Most Violent Year eschews the sappy awards-baiting nonsense and maintains its reservedness throughout. This is a film as much about style as it is subtlety, and because of that it feels far more authentic than Imitation Game, Interstellar, or American Sniper. Director J.C. Chandor does not have a heavy hand at all.
5. It’s not your typical crime film.
Like any genre, crime films tend to all follow fairly similar story details (the lunatic friend, a theme of redemption, paranoia, the fall from grace, etc.) but A Most Violent Year isn’t your typical crime film. For that reason, it will constantly and politely defy your expectations. This isn’t about the glorification of criminals (not that that stuff isn’t fun), but about making the tough decisions when it counts.
Troy-Jeffrey Allen writes about action/adventure for Action A Go Go. He is a comic book writer whose works include BamnComics.com, The Magic Bullet, Dr. Dremo’s Taphouse of Tall Tales, and the Harvey Award nominated District Comics. In addition, Allen has been a contributing writer for ComicBookBin.com, OfNote Magazine, and ForcesOfGeek.com. His work has been featured in the City Paper, The Baltimore Sun, Bethesda Magazine, The Examiner, and The Washington Post. Yes, he wrote this bio.