A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year ★★½

I've never seen a film before with such confused characters. At least five times during writer/director J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year characters ask each other "what does this mean?" Sometimes there's a reply and sometimes not, but it becomes an appropriate question to ask of the film as a whole, as it tries to juggle far too many plot threads in its story of an honorable man (Oscar Isaac) trying to keep his oil business afloat in New York in the early eighties. Isaac and his wife, played by Jessica Chastain, have kids but they are conveniently never seen, their business is being indicted by the district attorney but we are never told why, they are under attack both personally and professionally, supposedly by rival oil outfits, and Chandor will occasionally linger on a specific thread without any discernible notion of strategically placed cause and effect. Nothing escalates organically in this film and the resolution comes out of nowhere, making it hard to believe its characters occupy the same world. We are just supposed to take Chandor's word for it that there is serious drama happening because that's the way he wrote it.

A late scene of a character stepping over the dead body of a man to patch a bullet hole that just punctured an oil tank is supposed to be some kind of dire commentary and foreshadowing about capitalism in the 1980's, but it instead becomes a summation of Chandor's reach exceeding his grasp. A Most Violent Year is wishy-washy Scorsese-lite at best, and we already have David O'Russell for that. It wants so bad to be the prologue to the kind of character who ten years later will think "he's out until they pull him back in," but it never manages to connect its many sporadic dots. A huge disappointment from the director of last year's fantastic All Is Lost.