Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
The touches of Coppola's framing, Pacino in his prime and Lumet's magnified police expo's are there to be seen, in a wonderfully restrained piece of filmmaking by JC Chandor. Most tellingly they remain as influences rather than forming pale imitations of the past, which is testament to the control the director continues to exert over his storytelling.
What helps him no end is a charismatic performance from Oscar Isaac, who unexpectedly jumps forward with the type of lens burning aura not seen in a quite a while. Llewyln brought him to most peoples attention last year, although it being a Coen film filled with quirky distractions, it was difficult to truly stand out. Placed into a stripped down narrative and framed as the stand out character, he fills each shot with a quiet, domineering presence.
As Abel he plays a business man trying to compete with his competitors, who appear to be using every dirty trick in the book to scare him off. His ethics are as pristine as the suits he wears and even when the bank bail on him and he is investigated for tax fraud, Abel remains determined to play it straight. To climb the capitalist ladder nearly all of us believe you have to get your hands dirty somewhere but he steadfastly refuses to see it the same way.
At almost every turn you are expecting a typical Mafioso moment to launch the film into a far darker direction. Abel would slot straight into any classic gangster story, from his manicured looks to his calm voice that leaves you chasing the next word to be spoken. That's without mentioning the sand coloured, Michael Corleone-style coat. Yet it never happens and a heavy existential atmosphere continues to wrap itself around a man at war with his own philosophies. It is a clever subversion by Chandor, who plays on our pre-conceived notions of a Latin American built in the mould of a gangster, but who refuses to play ball.
What does let it down is a failure to deliver on the promise of peering down further into Abel's soul. He may not be as clear cut as he suggests and that ambiguity would have worked better if a conclusion more in line with the previous two hours had been fleshed out. Jessica Chastain feels underused and David Oyelowo's assistant D.A. doesn't add up to much so it is left up to Oscar who memorably delivers. As for Chandor, he may not be quite there just yet but in the very near future, we will probably remember this period as the build up toward the classics.