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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

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

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3sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE Judy Thorburn

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3lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE


A Most Violent Year

It is said that to achieve success it often requires being in the right place at the right time. Maybe so, but sometimes the cards are stacked against your favor.

Take Abel Morales (a fine, restrained performance by Oscar Isaccs, Inside llewyn Davis) for example, an immigrant trying to expand his heating oil business in New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically the most crime ridden year in the city's history. Regardless of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and not in his favor,  Abel, who is filled with ambition and drive, won't let that or anything else stand in his way of reaching the American dream.

A former driver that took over the oil business from his father in law, Abel has just negotiated a deal with Hassidic Jews to buy a property along the East River with access to a large facility capable of storing 100 million gallons of oil. After putting a hefty sum down as deposit, Abel is given just thirty days to raise the rest of the money and complete the transaction, or lose his deposit, knowing it would then be sold to his competitors that would be happy to see him fail.

In the meantime, Abel is having to deal with major losses of oil as his tanker trucks are being hijacked and the drivers beaten, which has a significant effect on his company. Despite advice from his attorney (Albert Brooks) and a Teamster boss (Peter Gerety), Abel doesn't believe in giving into the fear that is engulfing the city and refuses to arm his drivers with a gun for self protection.  A subplot features Julian, a victimized Latino driver (Elyes Gabel) whose ill fate is meant to be a sharp contrast to Abel's success.

Not only does he refuse to help find the culprits that have stolen Abel's oil, to make matters worse, District Attorney (David Oyelowo) tells Abel that his company is under investigation for fraud, tax evation and other unlawful practices and there is enough evidence to bring charges against him. Moreover, when word gets out about the allegations, the bank backs out in securing the funds Abel direly needs to close his property deal.

A Most Violent Year follows the struggles of Abel Morales as he attempts to build his business, and stay an honorable man without compromising his morals and ethics.  At one point he says, “I have always taken the path that is most right.  The result is never in question for me...just what path you take to get there.”

That path includes Abel's wife, Anna a smart, tough cookie, who doesn't possess his strong moral compass. The daughter of a mobster, she is proof that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  She loves her husband but knows his weaknesses and has no problem taking care of business and doing some of the dirty work that he is not willing to do. As always, Jessica Chastain turns in an excellent performance and I was stunned and disappointed that she didn't nab a Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Shame on the academy for snubbing her.

In his third film, writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All is Lost) attempts to channel The Godfather's Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his personal battle to stay on the straight and narrow,  but as the young reluctant mobster says at one point,”they keep pulling me back in”.  The heating oil business, like any big, money making enterprise, has its own network of unscrupulous businessman and corruption.  I get the correlation. The question is whether Abel is really an innocent, righteous man, or has he, or will he be, forced to secumb to the dark side.

For a movie that is titled A Most Violent Year, there is lots of talk and, surprisingly, not a lot of violence. That isn't a problem. In spite of the effective performances and cinematographer Bradford Young's impressive camerawork that captures the dark and gritty New York atmosphere, the problem with this crime drama is that there is no sense of urgency, it lacks suspense and is at times, dull.  Sadly, as a slow burner, the film never really picks up enough steam to fuel more than a lukewarm review.


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