A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year ★★★★½

In the final lap of the 2014 marathon, those vigilant and patient viewers can now bask in reward, reaching for the finish line with this last minute boost of energy and exhilaration. In just his 3rd film, director J.C. Chandor has crossed the threshold victoriously. He sprinted off the line with a razor sharp drama of a powerful corporation on the verge of financial ruin. Next, he enlisted Robert Redford to play the lone passenger on a sailboat set out an all or nothing journey. Now, he has gone off the grid setting sights on an anti-gangster with a conscience who is building an oil empire. This may be his most accomplished film to date or at least it might end up being his most universally accepted one. His characters lurk in and out of the shadows casting their doubts on us early and often. Chandor wrote this story with a passive-aggressive passion that transfers gracefully onto the screen at his pace and discretion.

The record year for violence in New York City in 1981 is the backdrop for a young business owner (Oscar Isaac) trying to keep his company growing and his conscience clean. Resisting temptation to take the easier routes to success have hurt him…the good guys rarely win in the oil business. He knows it. His wife knows it. His competition knows it. Here’s a man who is taking hits for being upstanding and his oil trucks keep getting hijacked because he is perceived as weak. The price he pays for his integrity is that everyone around him preys on the absence of malice behind his organization. Every man has his limit, but what will be his limit and what will be the repercussion? Can he forever turn the other cheek or is he waiting for the right time to make the ultimate switch?

Oscar Isaac is some kind of alternate universe Al Pacino rocking pre-evil Godfather 2. Jessica Chastain is at his side like Talia Shire showing polished ferocity. Chandor films in special-dark crime vision with a hauntingly effective score frying the nerves. It is a “dream team” effort on all levels as the plan seems to come to fruition almost automatically, right before us. This drama is subtle but hits hard at all the right and unexpected moments. I jumped out of my seat more than once and those were at moments where I was supposed to be calm I believe. Chandor causes distress early and keeps us on our toes, always watching our back, just like the characters. He positions these characters on a gritty, oil soaked chess board and moves the pieces strategically as we anxiously anticipate the next move, and the next. The mystery is ever present and the plot gets you involved - on a moral level most importantly.

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