365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


A Most Violent Year (2014)

The best movie of 2014 that has really flown under the radar is, without a doubt, J.C. Chandor's (All Is Lost, Margin Call) A Most Violent Year. This movie, as I will mention in the paragraphs below, is subtly amazing. But before I get into the movie, I want to talk about Chandor. This guy is quietly establishing himself as a master of two crafts. This is just his third movie, but it is his third that he has both directed and written the screenplay for. And all three movies have earned at least 88% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes though none of them earned more than $8 million at the box office. All three movies are completely unique from one another and Chandor has already had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in Hollywood (Robert Redford, Kevin Space, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Oscar Isaac, David Oyelowo, Jessica Chastain, and Albert Brooks). He has already signed on Mark Wahlberg to star in his next project. And while All Is Lost and Margin Call were both amazing movie experiences, A Most Violent Year is Chandor's crowning achievement to date.

I believed I had seen all of the top 10 movies of 2014 prior to this film, but as I set here and reflect on it, I realize that it is vying with Gone Girl for that last spot. Both movies really engrossed me an I was happy that I saw both in the theater. But there was something about A Most Violent Year that felt a bit more complete than Gone Girl. I was so disappointed with the end of Gone Girl. I was not disappointed with any aspect of A Most Violent Year. It was a very original, engaging, and satisfying movie and one of the ten best acting performances of the year was delivered by Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Drive). Isaac is slowly but surely showing me that he is a man that you want to have in your movie.

The setting is 1981 New York City. With over 2200 murders, 5400 rapes, 60,000 aggravated assaults, 130,000 vehicle thefts, and 1,000,000 crimes to property, 1981 was, indeed, the most violent year in the history of America's greatest city. And while A Most Violent Year is a fictional story, the statistics of that year are real. This was a very corrupt and dangerous time. The law simply could not keep up with all of the crimes that were happening. And some of the crimes that were happening were just shoved across desks an forgotten about, simply because of a lack of manpower and the overwhelming number of crimes.

In A Most Violent Year, he stars as Abel Morales, an entrepreneur in the oil industry. He basically buys oil on the cheap, transports it in, and then sells it to either his customers or his competitors, whoever can offer a better price. He's a man who wants to run an honest business. He thinks he really can make a profit doing things the correct and honest way. His business is expanding and he's being looked at because of the new markets he may be entering into. He has a contract to buy a parking yard for a fee beyond market value. The yard has a ton of storage capacity for him to store his oil and it is also next to the river, which would allow him to transport oil outside of just trucks. He is ambitious, but his money is tight. He's relying more on the money he expects to be earning rather than the money he already has. So it doesn't help his cause when his trucks are stolen at gunpoint, his drivers beaten badly, and he is robbed of thousands of dollars with no prospect of ever getting that money back. Worse, his trucks are being robbed in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses. Chandor plays this as the norm of 1981 New York rather than the exception. And when his oil gets stolen, there isn't much recourse for Abel since it isn't seen as a priority by the police.

However, the number of crimes in the industry have caused the Assistant District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo - Selma, Lincoln) is investigating the entire bulk-fuel delivery industry. Out of respect, he tells Abel that is company has broken a law and that he will soon be having a case brought against him. He has no idea of the crimes that are about to be levied against him and asks if his closest confidants know anything. These include his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain - Take Shelter, Zero Dark Thirty) and his lawyer Andrew (Albert Brooks - Drive, Broadcast News). Both deny any wrongdoing, but we soon learn that it is hard to trust anyone in this corrupt city during this tumultuous time. When the crimes start affecting not just his business, but also his family, Abel knows he must do something for this to end. With looming deadlines and enemies both identifiable and unidentifiable.

Isaac was amazing in this film. He played a man who stayed true to himself (at least as much as he could) with so much insurmountable pressure hitting him in every direction. As he continued to be dealt with blow after blow, he stayed calm and continued to beg and borrow for both money and time from his associates, lenders, and business partner. But he refuses to do anything unethical and gets upset when his employees don't uphold the law. He is faithful and empathetic towards his drivers who are being endangered. Some might say that his moral compass is his tragic flaw. Others would say it is his greatest asset. By the end of the movie, you will know which group is correct.

It's a grimy little movie that will keep you entertained the entire time while also keep you guessing. Rotten Tomatoes didn't really identify it as a suspense movie, but I think it is as much suspense at is drama. Chandor and Isaac were on the same page the whole time. I would say Isaac was in that 8-10 range in terms of best performance by a lead actor this year. It was right that he was left off the list, but he was very, very close. There was talk that Chastain would get a nomination. I'm glad she didn't. She was good, but not great. Brooks was similar. Oyelowo was great. He was nearly unrecognizable in this role compared to his role as Martin Luther King in Selma, a movie that was released within weeks of A Most Violent Year. In my opinion, this is a must see film for anybody who likes a good crime drama or crime thriller.

Plot 10/10 (I found it original...it kept me entertained the entire time...New York may never have looked so bland in a movie has it has in this one)
Character Development 9.5/10 (Oscar Isaac's character was developed beautifully...he was a man who stayed true to his values...who stayed calm in circumstances that would cause most men to go crazy)
Character Chemistry 8/10
Acting 8.5/10 (Isaac was brilliant, Oyelowo was great, Brooks was ok, and Chastain, yet again, was overrated)
Screenplay 10/10 (Chandor has the makings of a master)
Directing 10/10 (see above)
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 8/10
Hook and Reel 9.5/10
Universal Relevance 9/10 (I think it's good to have a story surrounding the most crime driven year in America's largest city...this served as a legit story for me)

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