AmostviolentyearWhen Opportunity Presents Itself
A Most Violent Year
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Jerry Adler, David Margulies, Annie Funke and Kathleen Doyle
Director/Scriptwriter: J. C. Chandor
Cinematography: Bradford Young
Composer: Alex Ebert
A24 Films
Rating: R for violence and sexual themes
Running Length: 124 minutes
J. C. Chandor has written a script  that is close to “The Godfather” films but, also far away from the idea of a man, who is am immigrant,  heading a crime syndicate.  In “A Most Violent Year” (New York City and 1981) we find that in a marriage the man isn't always the head of the family. Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llweyn Davis”) plays Abel Morales, who wants to climb the crime ladder amid the violence that is in the city at that time, with strikes, riots and gangs. Perfect opportunity and the Big Apple is there ready for plucking.
The story revolves around Abel Morales (Isaac) and waiting for the opportunity to advance himself and establish his own crime “family.”  Abel’s wife is Anna (Jessica Chastain in fashionable 1980’s clothes), who appears to be in the background, but really has her own agenda about forwarding the family. Morales (and here, Isaac looks like a young Armand Assante) wants to go the truck route and then into deliveries to the docks, but finds that he needs to perfect his persuasive power, first, before moving ahead with his organization. He deals with truckers, bankers from Israel, and other families who want to move up.  The deciding factor in whose plan to follow is when Morales and Anna are driving in the country and he accidentally hits a deer. It is severely wounded and he can't bring himself to shoot it, so she does it. In that moment, power begins to shift. Another deciding factor is where to get the money to advance and guess who knows what to do and where the pay-off’s go.
The ambience of 1981 is just right with clothes (especially women’s fashions) and cars. Music is for that moment in time with Alex Ebert’s song, “America For Me.”  This is a gritty time in the city, fall and winter, and gritty places to do business. It seems as though the only clean place is your own home until the police come to search. Interesting moments are in meetings where “arrangements” are being made, and who glances at who can seal a deal or break it.
Oscar Isaac delves into Abel Morales, the immigrant, and starts out meek but learns quickly. Watch his clothing. He goes from meek and hiding in his overcoat, to being forward and bold. Jessica Chastain is always in fashion-mode, but that works to her advantage as one who sees everything. Albert Brooke is in a surprising role as a crime boss. You just don't know who to trust.
This is the type of film that uses atmosphere and settings as easily as actors and actresses. Jessica Chastain in her gorgeous winter white coat can be hidden in the background or in the forefront against a car or building. It is all in placement. The audience can go along with the flow and watch the pieces come together. Sit back and observe.
Copyright 2015 Marie Asner
For more film reviews on mob-related themes, see the following:
Russell Crowe in Broken City
Christian Bale in American Hustle