James Canellos ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Traditionally you say ‘third time’s the charm’ when the first two tries were unsuccessful. In director J.C. Chandor’s case, his third film is where he completes his groundwork as one of the most reliable directors working today. In just four years, Chandor has written and directed three character-driven pieces that are as diverse as the last: 2011’s financial drama Margin Call, 2013’s spiritual survival story All Is Lost and now 2014’s moral quarrel known as A Most Violent Year. With his latest film, Chandor has become a chameleon of a director, quickly and efficiently transitioning from one style to the next.
The title may insinuate intense blood shed, yet the most nauseating aspect of the film is the drive of these characters to get ahead in 1981 New York City. In the middle of this statistically dangerous year, immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an up-and-coming fuel-heating company owner, is trying to expand by purchasing a Jewish-owned facility that would launch him from underdog to heavyweight competitor. During these business transactions, Abel’s fuel trucks have been hijacked, the authorities (David Oyelowo) are investigating his entire business, and his no-nonsense wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) keeps pushing him to behave more like her mob-connected father.
What makes A Most Violent Year so compelling is Abel’s passion for his business and his conscious decision to always try to do the right thing. Abel is the scapegoat of what success in America will cost, and if anyone can do it honestly. Despite the title, the suspense erupts from Abel trying to avoid violence, even though his competitors could care less. Oscar Isaac proved that he could convey someone who embodies the bitterness of failure from Inside Llewyn Davis, and within a year he’s made a glorious transition by portraying the overwhelming determination of victory. In one scene, Abel is coaching new salespeople how to close a deal and he says, “Hold their attention longer than you should”. With a screen presence like Isaac, dominating roles like this one it will make it impossible to look away from those tenacious eyes.
The Lady Macbeth to Abel is Anna, who acts as a defect in her husband’s normally pristine moral compass. Jessica Chastain is stellar as the devious daughter of a family who was more than willing to get their hands dirty if it meant a quick solution to their problems. Her delivery adds all the best kind of Shakespearean elements of wicked behavior, mockery and deceit- all with a twirl of her finger. Elyes Gabel also shines as a traumatized driver of Abel’s company, trying to cope with the dog-eat-dog world he’s been forced into that is American business.
Chandor decides to let the tension burn slowly to a beautiful New York City backdrop that reminds one of Sidney Lumet in his prime. One scene that involves a heist gone wrong on the Queensboro Bridge might be one of the most exciting scenes of the year and compares to nothing else Chandor has put on film. Only it feels like because Chandor’s previous works are so vastly different, he won’t be typecast as a specific kind of director. He is on the verge of becoming one of the few directors who doesn’t fall into the same predictable pattern. A film like this may not be the most expected way for J.C. Chandor to go, but it sure is an exciting one.
Overall Grade: A