Movie Review: “A Most Violent Year” – Not Violent At All

Written by Samah Ali April 06, 2015

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J.C. Chandor writes and directs “A Most Violent Year”, a melodramatic film with a great plot and marvelous cinematography but the sluggish acts and mediocre chase scenes make the movie a flop.

Columbian-born businessman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) plans to expand his company in 1981, a year documented with the highest violence in New York City. As he signs one of his biggest ventures to date the DA’s office investigates his business and his overwhelmingly lucky success over a short period of time. Anna Morales (Jessica Chastain) tries to save the business with her paternal mentality after being raised by a mafia king. Abel keeps his business clean, but Anna’s actions could cost him his career.

 “I like to own the things I use.”

Chandor did an excellent job writing the layered characters weaving in and out on screen. At first glance, Abel appears to be like every other company typhoon in New York — rich, inexplicably successful, trophy wife— and as Isaacs channels his Pablo Escobar inspired character, it’s easy to read him as a gangster. But as time goes on his true persona seeps through the screen as he tries to run the cleanest oil business on the block. Precision and perfection keeps his enemies in his shadows and makes Abel the prime target for DA Lawrence (David Oyelowo). His successes are one thing, but Abel’s model behavior and staff appreciation is what makes him a commendable leader.

Opposites attract with his wife Anna’s gangster-esque behavior towards the police. Her shady answers and reputation provokes Lawrence to dig further into Abel’s business as he fails to discover who is stealing from Abel during the most violent year in New York.

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Despite the supposed crime rates 1981 holds “A Most Violent Year” was everything but violent. With a few chase scenes sprinkled throughout the movie to hold up the movie’s title there were few memorable moments that emphasized the terror that plagued the streets of New York. The violence was seen mostly with Morales’ company as his oil trucks were stolen and drivers were beaten. The chase sequences were slow and drawn out over a long period of time. They were dull chase scenes, definitely not what one would expect when watching a mobster-esque movie.

 “When it feels scary to jump that is exactly when you jump.”

Cinematographer Bradford Young took advantage of the New York City haze and added grime with sleazy henchmen contrasting with polished suits. Scenes of hope and business were shot with clean snow and pressed outfits while violent scenes took place in industrial landscapes with billowing smoke. Dynamic shots with foggy backgrounds emphasized Abel’s position as an established businessman in a city built on money laundering and fraud.

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“A Most Violent Year” dragged on from scene to scene with monotonous dialogue and anguished faces. No one was happy and empathy for the Morales was the last thing conveyed. There was emotional disconnect but the respect and honorability of Abel was present. Isaac commanded the screen but couldn’t manage to evoke sympathy for a man in his position. Sometimes it’s hard to pity rich people.

The movie was sub-par but had some great elements to it. The slow scenes really took a hit on the luscious pictures on screen and the film should be noted for its camerawork, other then that “A Most Violent Year” to skip.

Rating: 6/10

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About Samah Ali

Samah Ali

With a deep admiration for film, television, and music, Samah spends most of her free time expressing and sharing her love for the arts. Studying Creative Writing at Western University, she enjoys writing about film & music and shapes her passions with the latest movie or album available.

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