Saturday, January 31, 2015

Elevation Pictures Film Review- A Most Violent Year

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) wants to run a legitimate business. He is the owner of a fast rising heating oil company. Morales an immigrant to the United States, rose through the ranks and bought the company from his wife Anna's (Jessica Chastain) father. Anna knows the seedier side of the heating oil business having grown up in the industry. The world includes attacking fellow competitors trucks, buying stolen product, fast and loose accounting practices and rigging scales for company friendly meter readings.

The story is set in 1981 New York and as the title states it was one of the top years for murders in the City's history. In 1981 New York was much grittier that it is today. Times Square was porn shops and peep shows not Disney, ESPN Zones and Apple stores that it is today. The cities back alleys and abandon spaces were full of graffiti along with subway trains and stations . Writer /Director J.C. Chandor and his production team do an excellent job of setting the scene. The first aspect is a historical undertone of daily radio crime reports. The commentary is muted under a given scene but the viewer is able to pick up the grim details. The second is the wardrobe choices. 1981 is in the near past but the clothing, hair and glasses choices make the film look like a period piece. The film is set and shot in the winter. Big coats, big collars, hats, and hair rule the day. The third is recreating the grittiness of the time. The production tagged fresh graffiti and the use of dark drab pale blues, whites and greys brought home the feel of a cold New York winter.

A Most Violent Year refreshingly takes it time to get to its point. At the films outset one of Morales' Standard Heating Oil trucks is highjacked, its driver pistol whipped. The audience soon learns that this is an ongoing issue targeting the company. Morales is also about to make a significant deal for a little used property between Standard Heating Oil's terminal and the river that will open up the ability to bring in product by water when the prices are low store them in the onsite tanks then sell at a higher price when the heating oil market rises in the winter. Chandor story slowing unravels these issues along with the battle by Morales to stay legit while Anna is more willing to bend the rules to accomplish the couples goals.

Oscar Isaac absorbs his character of Abel Morales reminding one of a young Al Pacino in the Godfather films. The first striking thing about his character is the long expensive camel wool coat he ports throughout the film. The coat is above his current standing but Abel is portraying where he wants to be instead of where he is now. He displays his personal and professional philosophy when he instructs three new sales people on how to close a deal. Standard oil will not be the cheapest option but it will be the better one. If a customer gives you a choice of refreshment always pick the more expensive or exotic option. If offered coffee or tea you take the tea. Jessica Chastain turns in another in a string of strong performances as Anna Morales. She battles her husband toe to toe, attacks his manhood when he refuses to push back and go the more violent route but is quietly loyal protecting her families future while taking on public officials that appear at the Morales' door.

A most Violent year is an engrossing take on a little explored subject on film. The production team does a formidable job of recreating the time period.  The two lead actors are captivating in their roles. J.C. Candor continues his impressive run of solid features on vastly different subject matters. The Heating Oil business circa 1981 here, alone at sea in All is Lost and the investment banking in Margin Call.  This is a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

A Most Violent Year | J.C. Chandor | U.S.A. | 2014 | 125 Minutes.

Tags:1981, New York, Crime,  Immigrant, District Attorney, Inditement, Land Deal, Union.

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