A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year ★★★½

A solid, engrossing drama about the easily corrupted American dream, J.C. Chandor's "A Most Violent Year" features a stellar cast, a compelling story, and a thick sense of place. Presenting a study of characters looking to prosper in a landscape built to hinder them, the film is a rich and satisfyingly rendered portrait of men and women in conflict.

"A Most Violent Year" revolves around Oscar Isaac's Abel Morales and his wife, Anna, played by Jessica Chastain. A self-styled heating oil magnate in New York, Morales attempts to build a business empire as his competition works to destroy it. Though not free of questionable dealings, Abel's goal is to build legally; Anna, however, understands, that to fight the players that stand to take the Moraleses down, violence may have to be pursued.

The narrative occupies similar space as like-minded crime epics, but the story here is striking due to Abel's pacifist bent. He wishes to build lawfully, and, though that is a certainly ironic idea due to the lack of legality in aspects of his own business, he presses to create a clean network of tankers and trucks. His wife knows better, taking the position of enforcer.

Chandor builds an early 1980s costume drama out of his narrative. Focusing on the sights and sounds of the era, he creates something that looks and feels pitch perfect. Shots can be stately, but tension is rampant. Isaac and Chastain are simply excellent, communicating specific depth and archetypal stokes.

"A Most Violent Year" is a handsome and striking study of characters sewn together by plots and by plot. Engagingly assembled and sturdily told, the work grips with a recognizable humanity tinged with Shakespearean flair.

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