By Marc S. Sanders

If Michael Corleone had kept his promise to Kay to go strictly legitimate, he’d probably have become Abel Morales, the protagonist of A Most Violent Year, played exceedingly well by underrated Oscar Isaac.

Writer/Director J.C. Chandor sets his story in winter 1981, on record statistically recognized as what the film’s title literary suggests.  Therefore, it is a challenge for Morales to successfully bring his heating oil enterprise to a capital success when his competitors don’t play by the rules and hijack his product while threatening his able staff of truckers and salespeople. Then there is the stigma Morales must endure by being married to a reputed mob boss’ daughter, searingly played by Jessica Chastain, ready at a moment’s notice to call on her own family for help or to just pull a trigger herself.  Morales tried his hardest to keep her in check.  Furthermore, the industry he’s chosen is riddled with suspicion of fraud, embezzlement, racketeering, and underhanded tricks. All this warrants the DA to bring an endless array of indictments against Morales and his business, despite all the cooperation and legal activities that have been accomplished so far.

So why go through with this at all?  A lifetime has been invested.  Time of money and work to fight for an opportunity.  Abel knows this more than anything, and he will not surrender to deals from the DA or the mob.  He will not compromise despite the challenges.

Chandor’s film is well done.  It had been on my radar to watch since its release and yet it was not what I expected.  I was waiting for Abel’s widely seen beautiful camel overcoat to end up soaked in blood.  It never came to be.  That observation only suggests that A Most Violent Year does not promise on its descriptiveness.  On the contrary, it offers the setting so that we understand Abel’s conflict.  

A good story piles on one problem after another to keep a viewer compelled. Maybe one primary problem is wrapped up a little too neatly here, but no matter.  I also would have preferred better camera positioning from Chandor on occasion. Some characters who are being introduced for the first time are heard speaking off camera only to then be shown a close up of them with no more to say.  Happened more than twice and I can’t understand why.  I’m sure Chandor artistically intended it to be that way.  Yet, I didn’t like it.

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are great.  These are two actors rarely seen in the gossip rags.  So, they are more well known for selecting smart roles and stretching their flexibility for the parts they agree to take.  It’s refreshing. It’s why A Most Violent Year can be capably made with a great script (better than the film) amid all of the tentpole blockbuster sequels.  

It’s worth it to check out.

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