Monday, May 11, 2015

Catching Up: A Most Violent Year

The great benefit of some temporal distance from all of these films I'm *just getting around to* writing about is that I now know precisely the outcome of awards season and I can ask, with total and absolute conviction, how it's even possible that A Most Violent Year was ignored the way it was.  Though, at the same time, I guess I'm not surprised.  J.C. Chandor's film is a New Hollywood classic come too late, an aesthetic tribute to a bygone era of New York crime films and morality plays that roots itself in a world of waterfronts, boxy luxury cars, long camel-hair coats, and smokey interiors.  It's a gangster movie that exists with the real criminals lurking just in the shadows, steeping itself in the atmospheric visual cues familiar to their world but grounding its story in financial paperwork and a more numbers-based corruption.

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain star as the film's central twosome, married Abel and Anna Morales.  They're in the business of home-heating oil, on the verge of taking their expanding company to the next level.  If Abel can get the money needed to close on a deal, he'll be able to all but guarantee his own dominance of that market.  Problems begin to surface as Abel finds himself under police investigation for corruption just as his low-level employees find themselves victims of ruthless attacks and thefts.  While Anna has fudged some numbers, sure, Abel wants to keep his head above water.  In this, the film becomes a fascinating inversion of its generic constraints, and as smart as it is stylish.  It adopting the look and feel of a type of film, A Most Violent Year finds a way to make a different kind of "business" feel as rife with intrigue and as dangerous as so many we've seen before.  The mundane, workaday aspects of industry are here made chilling, all the more by the backdrop of a grimy, 1981 New York City.  We can see what happens when true corruption creeps steadily towards something far more morally ambiguous, and Chandor succeeds in destabilizing the film's ground throughout. It's often not clear who's in the right or how far the family will go, and the result is a powder keg, and one of the coolest damn movies in recent memory.


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