A Most Violent Year Review

A Most Violent Year

Never judge a book by its cover.

Clichéd as that may sound, it’s also pretty sound advice when it comes to A Most Violent Year.

Set in 1981 era New York, statistically the most violent year this city has ever seen, J.C. Chandor’s latest film follows the trials and tribulations of a charismatic entrepreneur by the name of Abel Morales.

Having established his own business as a bespoke oil supplier, we watch as Morales fights his way to the top of this crooked industry.

Unfortunately, this isn’t literally.

While Abel’s wife Anna is a confirmed follower of fashion, he’s a dedicated fellow of pacifism, and though this is a principle to admire in real life, it sure don’t make for a great leading character in a film misleadingly titled A Most Violent Year.

In fact, Abel’s year is anything but violent save for a few isolated incidents his unlucky employees stumble into, and that’s in spite of marrying into one of the big apple’s most notorious mafia families.

Eschewing the easy tradition of most gangster flicks, Chandor opts for a slow-burning morality tale instead.

I’m all for twisting saturated film genres, but you’ve still got to come up with something interesting enough to engage your audience, and A Most Violent Year just doesn’t do this.

Aping the style of increasingly brilliant TV shows like True Detective and Game Of Thrones, Chandor offers up an in depth account of one turbulent year in the life of Oscar Isaac’s character rather than a more cinematic and satisfying rise and or fall of his empire.

It’s an interesting idea, but doesn’t work for the very simple reason that slow burning drama needs more time to draw the viewer into its fictional world.

Film doesn’t allow such indulgences because a couple of hours just isn’t enough time to achieve this, leaving us with a long episode from some big budget TV drama without any real beginning or conclusion.

And as A Most Violent Year has been marketed as some violent gangster movie instead of what it really is, I’d suggest the filmmakers have drawn the same conclusion.

It is interesting though, if only to show how TV’s greatest merits get somewhat lost in translation when applied to film, while the best conventions of cinema such as hollywood actors and production values only enhance small screen dramas.

And in spite of a great cast that includes Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and Albert Brooks, A Most Violent Year never lives up to its cover.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

January 2015