“When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump; otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can’t do.”
J. C. Chandor has made something to be very proud of. Set in NYC in 1981, Chandor’s story of corrupted business has an intensely clever title. A Most Violent Year sets itself up like many a gangster movie, but quickly distances itself. Its title may suggest a lot of blood will be split, but it is a film in the opposite. The title refers to the most dangerous year in Manhattan, but the film hardly revolves around this violence, in what is a very refreshing take. The film is still dark and gritty in parts, but I truly appreciated a gangster film without the gangsters.
A Most Violent Year is also a slow burner. Action is at the premium and deaths are infrequent, but this does not render the film ‘boring’. Patience is certainly needed during some of the film’s slower periods, but it would be unfair to brand any of A Most Violent Year ‘boring’. Could it do with a third less run-time? Maybe.
Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are a real star pair. Isaac plays the moral Abel Morales, with Chastain as his much dedicated wife Anna. Isaac carries a certain gravitas in his performance, which is subtly juxtaposed against his calm demeanour and vulnerable sensitivity. His character is a contradiction, being strong in his morals but terrified under the skin. Abel’s vulnerability is one that gangster movies usually associate to the female role, whereas in A Most Violent Year, the female wears trousers. Chastain’s Anna is an outwardly stronger, more volatile character and contrasts Abel’s calm morality. The pair’s chemistry is clear for all to see, seemingly as a result of their long-lasting friendship, and produces some electric interaction.
Not only has Chandor written a very admirable film, his direction was delicately intricate. His handling of the filmmaking was delicate, soft hands filmmaking, allowing attention to be solely focused on the film at hand. His close shots are an intimate glance into the human characters behind the business appearances, whilst his wider shots have shallower tones, much like a vintage photograph. The music is just as delicate; it hints the direction of the picture, rather than outright pointing it out.
The film is at times a striking affair. There is real beauty in the script, camerawork and acting, but it is not constant. The film is a gripping slow-burner, but takes a long time to get to a merely average conclusion. If the film had moved any further, it could have turned into another gangster film, and its biggest strength is that it is certainly not that. A Most Violent Year is a most worthy watch.