This is writer-director Chandor’s third film and his first two efforts were both interesting, if flawed. His first film, Margin Call, was an often incisive & cutting look into the financial collapse with Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, etc. It was a very good film, only occasionally too overt and ultimately very powerful. His second was All is Lost, a film focused entirely on Robert Redford trying to survive on the open ocean after his sailboat strikes a piece of floating debris. It was good, but too long and not entirely successful; nevertheless, it was a fascinating experiment and unbelievably ambitious for a sophomore effort.
A Most Violent Year features Oscar Isaac as an upwardly mobile, expansion minded owner of a heating oil company in the harsh winter of New York City’s 1981, the most violent year the city had seen at that point. Jessica Chastain is his scheming Lady Macbeth, David Oyelowo (of Selma fame) as an industrious prosecutor investigating the heating oil industry and Albert Brooks is Isaac’s long-suffering lawyer. The film is very much a Godfather type tale in the way it follows Isaac’s character as he’s pulled deeper and deeper into the shadow world of crime that operates behind the fronts of his competitors. The question is whether, as his character, Abed, feels, he can make it in the business by being the best or if he’ll have to walk on the dark side just in order to keep up. No spoilers, but you probably don’t need any. It’s a wonderfully cast movie. Those main four players are all absolutely brilliant. I’ve been on board with Isaac since The Bourne Legacy where he turned a ten minute role into the best thing about the movie and he’s just getting better and better and with his iconic tan trenchcoat and his thick thatch of dark hair, he reminds the viewer of a seventies era Pacino and the comparison isn’t one that embarrasses Isaac at all. Chastain had a great year: her best performance to date in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, a solid supporting turn in Interstellar and now this wonderful, seductive performance. Brooks and Oyelowo are both wonderful as well and the supporting cast is equally good. The film is slow, moody and atmospheric with a script that feels like homage to the gangster films of the seventies without ever being a rip-off of them. It’s a sharp, brilliant film about corruption & deception and the ending is both a perfect ending and only the beginning. Chandor has created his first genuine masterpiece. I gave All is Lost three stars & Margin Call three-and-a-half. This one? Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – writer-director Chandor creates his first masterpiece with this meticulous tale of corruption in 1980s New York City; the script is smart and quiet and the performances are brilliant. 4 stars.