Seeped in an 80’s atmosphere, and reminiscent of early Scorsese, ‘A Most Violent Year’ is a slow burn of a movie, one that keeps its audience taught with tension and unsure of when to breathe a sigh of relief. Set in 1981 New York City, statistically known as one of the most violent years in the city’s history, the film focuses on hard-working businessman Abel (Oscar Isaac), an ambitious type who’s hoping to launch his oil business to monetary fruition in spite of a series of hijackings that are intimidating both his business and his family. His wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) takes on a more direct approach to their situation with a ‘fight violence with violence’ mentality, something that both strengthens and threatens their relationship.
If you’ve seen the trailer for this film you’d understandably be under the impression that ‘A Most Violent Year’ is ripe with action sequences and bloody violence, but despite its insinuating title there’s very little on hand here. Director J.C. Chandor (who last brought a solo Robert Redford to the screen in the minimalistic drama ‘All Is Lost’) has opted for tension over terror with only one car chase sequence and the briefest of shoot-outs (though it indeed packs a punch) to mention, leaving the superb skills of Isaac and Chastain, as well as brilliant support from Albert Brooks and David Oyelowo, to drive the film home.
‘A Most Violent Year’ won’t be for everyone as it’s a very heavy dialogue-driven crime drama that bets on a smart, patient audience to stand behind it as it slowly unravels its intricate web. A gritty and refreshingly mature thriller, Chandor’s look at vicious corruption is a welcome change of pace to the current crop of cinematic features that bank on aesthetics of intelligence.