**** (out of five)
How do you explain a talent like J.C. Chandor, who seems to come to feature filmmaking fully-formed in 2011 with Margin Call, the best financial thriller – and best non-documentary film about the Global Financial Crisis – ever made? Who then takes on the challenge of a “one-man movie” with 2013’s All Is Lost (Robert Redford on a sinking boat) and makes it work – incredibly well? Who then makes a seriously excellent, wintry, highly literate and seriously foreboding drama like A Most Violent Year, thus hitting three for three as both writer and director of all?
The answer, of course, is that Chandor, a true auteur, is young (41) and is of a generation who has been able to achieve enormous film literacy. Each of his films is unique and original but they’re reflections of films he’s seen: Margin Call is his Wall Street, All Is Lost his Castaway, and now A Most Violent Year his version of a New York crime drama, massively influenced by The Godfather and Once Upon A Time In America, especially in cinematography (Bradford Young, who also shot Selma). Chandor and his collaborators show evidence of enormous understanding of the language of cinema, and his control of his craft – even as he challenges himself dramatically with each new film – is remarkable.
A Most Violent Year follows a morally good business man, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his slightly more ethically dubious wife and bookkeeper Anna (Jessica Chastain) as they try to grow their heating oil business in the boroughs of New York City in 1981. Up against them is the fact that all their rivals are corrupt or criminal, one of them is violently stealing the oil from his trucks by hijacking them, an industry-wide criminal investigation is about to snare him in its net, and the whole city is aflame with crime – 1981 was New York City’s “most violent year” on record.
The film isn’t actually particularly violent, but it’s infused with massive levels of cold dread and foreboding, and is never less than thoroughly compelling. Exquisitely acted, scripted and shot, it’s a major work for discerning adults. I loved it, and J.C. Chandor is now firmly in my list of directors whose work I will always see. Actually, make that “auteurs” – his writing is every bit as good as his direction. He’s the real deal.
A MOVIELAND “in deep” discussion of A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/in-deep-a-most-violent-year/id668507582?i=336475014&mt=2