A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year ★★★½

67/100

A.V. Club review. Name the last director whose first three features were as collectively interesting, strictly in terms of their lowercase-c catholicism, as Chandor's*. I have to go back to Soderbergh, I think. Here, he's made a throwback that fetishizes neither the period nor Lumet (his obvious inspiration), executing a very effective slow boil that culminates in the coldest fucking moment I've seen since Walter White and Jane. That penultimate scene (which Foundas singled out as the film's worst, to my astonishment) is so quietly brutal that it compensates for some on-the-nose cynicism (e.g. the final scene) and a slight overall torpor. I admire Chandor for keeping things life-size (while occasionally tossing in a home invasion or chase scene to prevent total flatline), but at this point he doesn't quite have the chops to make something so small and specific feel momentous. That's Ed, I wish every year gave us a couple dozen pictures this expertly "minor."

My other big reservation concerns Jessica Chastain, or rather the conception of her character. Writing about American Sniper earlier tonight, I complained about the stereotypical "Whiny Wife" who does nothing but beg her husband (the protagonist) to stop doing whatever's driving the narrative forward and pay more attention to her and/or the kids. Chastain is decidedly not playing that woman. But she's basically playing that woman's evil twin. The character's sole function is to be even more ruthless than her husband (to the point where she even calls him a pussy at one point). That's an improvement, but a full-fledged, complex human being with as much agency as the man would be a much bigger improvement.

* Please note: This is a very different question than "Name another director whose first three films announce him/her as a Major Auteur." If all three are fairly similar (see: both Wes and P.T. Anderson, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, etc.), you're in the wrong ballpark. With that distinction understood, do feel free to suggest candidates. Not Frostybottom, though.