Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Most Violent Year (2014)

Director: J.C. Chandor
Writer:   J.C. Chandor
Cast:      Oscar Issac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo

In New York City 1981, an ambitious immigrant fights to protect his oil business and family during the most dangerous year in the city's history. He had acquired his business from his father-in-law who was a gangster. His oil is getting stolen while in transit, his salesmen attacked, DA is after him and meanwhile all this he has thirty days to come up with $1.5 million to complete the acquisition of a terminal which would take his business to the next level. To compound all this, his wife with her gangster family background, is questioning her husband's ability to keep her and their kids safe and wants to seek help from her family. He doesn't want to do this as he is adamant on running his business in a legitimate manner and the big question in the film is whether he can do it.

This is J. C. Chandor's third film after making sub-prime Investment Banking film 'Margin Call' and Robert Redford starring survival film 'All is Lost'. The first one was excellent with him managing to land a stellar cast (Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany) and the story is told without dumbing down matters for the audience. I haven't seen the second one in full having turned it off after ten minutes or so with the realization that it might not be my cup of tea. I am also not a big fan of Robert Redford even though I thoroughly enjoyed both 'Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid' and 'All the Presiden't Men'. That said, I might revisit 'All is Lost' again since new releases have been quite dry lately.

Going by the title and the posters, I was expecting a gangster/mob picture, while in reality it is exactly the opposite. What you have here is someone who is avoiding the temptation to doing just that while everyone around him is advocating otherwise. It is a very unique film in the sense that legitimizing business is something that is glossed over in gangster genre pictures. Think of Michael Corleone in Godfather 2 and his relationship with his wife Kay, and in this film, Abel (Oscar Issac) and Anna (Jessica Chastain) are exact opposite of those two characters. Oscar Issac also look kind of similar to Michael Corleone and I don't know whether a conscious decision was made by them regarding that. It maybe just because of his black hair. Originally Javier Bardem was supposed to play the role but dropped out and was replaced by Oscar Issac. By the end of the film Abel somewhat compromises on his stand and justifies himself by saying that, for him, results are a constant but he always try to choose the most right path towards that. 

Overall it is a great watch dealing with a topic that is not commonly handled in the film business. You kind of realize watching it that cutting corners are kind of inevitable when you are running a successful business and planning for further growth. It is slow but never dull. You could describe the film as one which deals with loss of innocence. Oscar Issac had a breakout over the last two years with his role in Drive followed up with lead roles in 'Inside Llewyn Davis', 'The Two faces of January', 'Ex Machina' and 'A Most Violent Year'. Shame that he is gonna be in franchise films next- Star Wars and X-Men, which might be good for him in a careerist sense, but is kind of disappointing in an artistic sense. Both him and Jessica Chastain are excellent in this film and it is always nice to see 'The Wire' alumnus popping up in films and this time it is Peter Gerety (Judge Phelan) in a small role. 

Rating: 4.5/5