A Most Violent Year ★½

I'm sympathetic to those who scourge against Foxcatcher as a Dumb Movie About America (see Carson Lund's biting satirical take), but for me, what saves that movie is A) It's a film about people who use the language of American ideology (Tatum is essentially a blank slate who is given a cause by Carrel that he doesn't understand but feels compelled to follow) and B) Miller seems actually interested in telling this story, trying to investigate what happened here. There's a specificity in the performances and images that's more searching than stating.

On the flip side, here's JC Chandor's A Most Violent Year, which strikes me much more a film About Important Things, and posing so much attitude about American Capitalism without ever once giving us any sense of character, psychology, process. You could pull any shot from this 2+ hour tedium, which will all look great on the #PerfectShots Twitter Account. They're showy, expansive, full of luscious shadows. They also seem incredibly divorced from anything happening in the story or with the characters. Each shot is set up to look bold and magisterial, but they remain elusively nice to look at (thanks Bradford Young) without ever carrying an ounce of feeling.

This story should be fascinating—a Late 70s gas stealing mystery thriller—but because everything must take on a symbolic quality, there's no sense of any of this really mattering. I'd love to really see how this business works, which seems to have little parts that an intricate process movie would have be really awesome (imagine Soderbergh and Burns taking on this subject), and still carry the relevant meaning. The characters are too cartoonish (who exactly is the female oil owner and her father? That seems ripe for exploration, and instead comes off as Looking Weird). Jessica Chastain's sort of half-assed Brooklyn accent, her overly blond wing, and her overly bright red dress are almost the apex of how Chandor over-accentuates every detail without trusting his audience once. Who is she really, but simply the image of a femme fatale designed to symbolically represent the angry repressed violence inside old Abel MORALes? Dana Stevens astutely noted how despite having three young daughters, they only work as plot points for Abel's security. You never get the sense of either of them as father or mother. And Isaac might be feigning a Pacino accent, but it all feels like horse and pony show of a guy wearing a suit two sizes too big, recalling the Scarface play from Rushmore. Strike up some argument here that the entire film is "about appearances," but come on folks—you don't need to make "bad" choices to make a film "about appearances." Also themes are dumb.

Leave it up to a few action beats—a car/subway chase and a home invasion—to have the only feeling of reality. Lumet is the obvious nod here, but he always told his stories first, letting people naturally feel like the film's were so current to the moments they were made, historical documents. A Most Violent Year isn't a historical document as much as a series of poses about the Birth of Modern Capitalism, with the Deer of Innocence and a late shot showing a mixture of blood and oil as total embarrassment for the dumbest moments in any film this year. A Most Idiotic Posturing.