Sunday, February 08, 2015

A Most Violent Year

Folks, it was cold and snowy out Monday. I was just about the only one at the office and wound up staying a bit later than I might have so that things could clear up a little and I might be a little more visible at the bus stop. A movie that night was maybe not the wisest choice, but the sci-fi festival on Friday was forming a bit of a deadline.

Well worth it, though - I really do think that this movie got a bit hosed by A24 going for a slow release schedule. It wasn't in New York/LA until New Year's Eve, and then rolled out fairly slowly, hitting Boston in three stages, which looks indecisive to me but may just mean the film is doing well enough to get more screens.

A Most Violent Year

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

A Most Violent Year was shot from an original screenplay by director J.C. Chandor, but it feels like a highly successful adaptation of a great novel: Painted on a broad canvas, giving a feeling for the characters and their world, but pared down to a story that feels complete and focused on one viewing session. It hits its target almost without fail without becoming too simple or ponderous.

The year in question is 1981, winter, when crime in New York was at its worst. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) owns a small heating oil company, but he's looking to expand both via aggressive salesmanship and by purchasing a property that will give his business a great deal more capacity. Trouble is coming on two fronts, though - his trucks are being robbed, and a friendly but methodical detective (David Oyelowo) is investigating his entire industry. Abel is an honest and ethical man, mostly, but that may be a luxury given him courtesy of his lawyer Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks) and wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), herself a gangster's daughter and the one who keeps the books.

It's an elegant arrangement as a story; the general shape of things is clear very quickly but there is also room to explore. There's a mystery for characters to go through the motions of solving, but it never becomes the actual focal point of the film so that it feels neglected when Chandor spends time on something else. Though events revolve around Abel, other characters feel more intersecting than supporting, far from defined by how they intersect with him. Chandor also does a very nice job of keeping Abel actively involved, actually present and doing things at the moments where the story turns rather than just reacting after the fact; many stories along these lines will isolate the boss.

Full review at EFC.

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