By Justin Rawana
Written/Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, and David Oyelowo
There’s a scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather where everything changes for
Michael. He returns from the bathroom, draws a gun that was hidden behind a toilet tank,
and shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey in the head. It’s the first time Michael acts instead of
reacts to the events threatening to swallow his family, and his first encounter with the
darkness that will come to define his character for the rest of the story.
There is no such moment in A Most Violent Year, the third feature from writer/director
J.C. Chandor (All is Lost, Margin Call), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the
already overstuffed roster of cinematic anti-heroes – so called “dark” characters with
loose morals and itchy trigger-fingers we as audiences can’t believe we find ourselves
rooting for by the middle of act two. AMVY isn’t concerned with throwing another
morally-ambiguous fish in the pond. Instead, we are given Abel Morales: a hard working
immigrant and head of an up-and-coming heating oil company.
From the onset, Morales refuses to let the darkness in. The only problem is it’s New York
in 1981, the statically worst crime year in American history, and darkness literally
follows him home at night. As his drivers are attacked, his family threatened, and rivals
close in, Morales faces pressure from all sides (including his wife played with the usual
bravado by Jessica Chastain) to pick up a gun and play dirty like everyone else.
Do the rules matter if no one else is playing by them? J.C. Chandor’s bare bones directing
style places the question squarely on Oscar Isaac’s soon-to-be-Jedi shoulders, but you’ll
have to wait for the final scenes to see if his ‘man of light’ gets snuffed out.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray April 7th 2015
(Every week, Justin recommends a movie for movie night. This is the first in a new series.)