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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

A Most Violent Year | Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, Peter Gerety, Elyes Gabel | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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A Most Violent Year | Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, Peter Gerety, Elyes Gabel | Review

Statistically, that would be 1981 in New York City.  Heating oil trucks are being hijacked and Abel Morales’ (Oscar Isaac) business is taking a huge financial hit.   An immigrant who scratched and clawed to be able to provide the good (legitimate) life for himself, wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) and family, Morales does not want to arm his drivers, a decision that has catastrophic consequences for Julian (Elyes Gabel) one of his workers.

This film is actually the opposite of what the title suggests, with all of the dramatic action taking place in drab office settings and restaurants, the dialogue concerned with financing and the fraudulent aspects of keeping double sets of books – the kind that show profit/loss margins for a business.  Exciting if you are an entrepreneur, accountant, banker, or teamster, sleep-inducing for anyone else.  

It’s winter and gray, adding to the dullness of the topic at hand.  With indictments about to be handed down to Morales for shady bookkeeping practices, his bank funding is withdrawn and a coveted piece of storage property is at risk.  Where will he store his heating oil?  And who is responsible for stealing it from him?  

Morales’ attorney Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks) thinks guns are the answer.  Full of integrity (you can tell because he looks meaningfully at the camera many, many times) Abel Morales says no, but then again, he’s not the one getting his ass kicked out on the mean streets like Julian.

Now throw in a union rep (Peter Gerety) for some real excitement. Not.

If it sounds less than compelling, that’s because it is.  Sorry, but watching someone soul search in financial angst for nearly two hours is usually not most people’s idea of a fascinating film experience or even an interesting one.

The interest here is in how Isaac and Chastain populate their characters within an era created in clothes, cars, and attitude.  The two principal actors are marvelous, but both are mired in a plot about as engaging as footage of a lawn being watered.

I guess you could care about the Morales dilemma.  Is he really a good guy?  Does he deserve this bad luck?  Will he endure and prevail?  He comes from nothing; she comes from a hinted-at mob background.  You could say that she’s more able than Abel when it comes to weaponry.

Mostly drab, dull, and slow, any attempt at plot sizzle is always followed by a disappointing fizzle.  The real danger is that the audience might do the same.  C’mon, give us something more than two impressive performances stuck in a sea of regulation and finance.  It’s akin to the frustration of trying to keep a sparkler lit in a rainstorm.

Writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) tries to channel Michael Corleone-esque dilemmas through Isaac, securing neither urgency nor conflict in the process, opting instead for long, lingering looks full of introspection and brood.  Chastain oozes a tough penchant for danger, and Oyelowo is competent as Lawrence, the compromised district attorney.  Brooks is understated even as his character advocates eye-for-an-eye violence.

The problem is simply that it’s hard to care about any of the players, even with impressive cinematography by Bradford Young (Selma).  A Most Violent Year is all dressed up, but goes nowhere, a film about heating oil that has no heat.


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