A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year ★★★★★

"You will never do anything as hard as staring someone straight in the eye and telling the truth"

The minute Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" began playing over the cold, winter of 1981 New York City, I knew I was in for a treat. A Most Violent Year was more than a treat, it was a crime film that reminded me of the ones from the late 70's and early 80's. It was a different type of crime film to come out all year. With outstanding writing and directing from J.C. Chandor, striking cinematography by Bradford Young, and amazing performances from leads Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, I'm happy to report that A Most Violent Year was just absolutely terrific. One of the best films made about the American Dream.

Set in New York City, 1981, a year that was statistically one of the most violent in the city's history. It follows on immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) who has spent the last twenty years or so, building and expanding his business as well as capitalizing on opportunities. Abel owns a heating oil business and for the last several months his trucks have been getting ripped off, costing him a fortune. With the DA, Lawrence (David Oyelowo) looking to persecute him, It's up to Abel and his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain) to survive this nightmare in 1981 New York City.

What makes A Most Violent Year such a great, compelling piece of crime film is how different it works. You won't see mobsters or gangsters or crazy shootouts here. It's a riveting tale on the American Dream, and one that is substantially different that say Scarface and Spring Breakers. Abel Morales isn't a gangster, he's a man who came to the United States to make a living and a name for himself and his family. He's done just that and thriving off success as much as he can. Sure he's done some stuff that you can call questionable, but in the end of the day, he's just a man living the life and the dream. It's an amazing crime film, that's written so expertly and directed with sheer confidence.

It's a crime film that is similar in vain of those from the late 70's and early 80's where characters and atmosphere mattered more than grit and violence in today's crime films. It has a very old school look and feel to it. There's certainly a few thrilling sequences in the film, including a chase towards the end of the film which was done well. It maintains a mood throughout the film that stays consistent and a very tense atmosphere that just draws you in closer and closer the more the film goes on. Not to mention the beautiful cinematography by Bradford Young. Having seen now three of his films, he's quickly becoming more and more impressive behind the camera. He presents both the beauty and the bleak sides of New York City in the film.

Oscar Isaac's performance as Abel Morales is a work of brilliance. I thought he was outstanding in The Coen Brothers' 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis and here in A Most Violent Year he's better. Al Pacino is my favorite actor of all time, and Isaac literally channels his inner Al Pacino based off his intensity and emotions alone. His performance is only rivaled and at few times in the film, surpassed by Jessica Chastain. All those nominations and wins she's garnered for this film are completely justified, she gives a hell of performance here, further proving to be one the finest working actresses of our time. Isaac and Chastain have such great chemistry, that it only boosts the film up higher.

It's crazy how one film can change everything about how I feel. I recently called Whiplash my top film of 2014 and stated that it would most likely stay there. Then I watched A Most Violent Year, and everything changed. This film was just masterful from the opening frame to the closing frame. A great job by J.C. Chandor in creating one of the finest crime-drama films in recent time. I have nothing but praise for A Most Violent Year.

"When it feels scary to jump that is exactly when you jump. Otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can't do."

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