D/W: J.C. Chandor. DP: Bradford Young. Starring: Oscar Isaac/Jessica Chastain/David Oyelowo/Albert Brooks/Alessandro Nivola/Elyse Gabel/Peter Gerety.
The past few years have catapulted a few actors to become big names. Thankfully a few of those are consistently still picking good work for their resumes, even if it sometimes goes ignored by the powers that be.
A Most Violent Year is writer and director J.C. Candor’s third feature film. The film follows burgeoning oil businessman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) confronted with violent attacks on his truck drivers that threaten his business growth and his family’s safety. Pushed by his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) for action, he must balance his ideas of a clean, honest business with the reality of his situation.
Having attended Julliard together, Chastain and Isaac have clear chemistry with each other, allowing their scenes to be more interesting than the actual material. Chastain, all dolled up in 1980s Armani, looks ravishing here and has some great moments. However, her performance comes in a bit too high of pitch compared to the rest of the film and sadly you are not surprised then when she is up to no good (really, very bored of this trope). Isaac is more subtle, silently dominating his scenes, never playing all his cards. His Abel is pure honest practicality and he carries the film well. That being said, the costumes and world of the film are exquisite, aiding the tone. Specifically, Isaac’s camel overcoat feeling like a light against the corrupt world he must work in.
The couple is supported well by David Oyelowo, playing a district attorney. But the true standout is Elyse Gabel as Julian, one of the attacked truck drivers. Working with the Selma cinematographer, Bradford Young, Chandor is able to chronicle Gabel’s journey stylistically, but misses some notes of the trauma of the character. So overall A Most Violent Year never really sinks its teeth in. One is left in a sort of teased haze of ambivalence, which surely Abel would disagree with.