A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year

The year in question is 1981, the place suffering through all this violence is New York, and for Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) – the owner of up and coming heating oil company Standard Oil – things are about to get hectic. He’s just sealed a deal to purchase the land across from his storage tanks, which will give him access to the river and allow him to ship his oil in direct, but there’s a catch: he’s got to have the $1.5 million dollars to buy the land in 30 days or the deals off and he forfeits his deposit.
Meanwhile, he’s currently under investigation by Assistant District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo), a man who believes the heating oil business is top-to-bottom rotten and seems to think Abel is the guy to make an example of. There’s also a gang of hijackers out there making off with his oil trucks then selling his oil off at bargain prices to undercut him – putting his whole business at risk. Abel is determined to navigate these tricky waters while staying on the right side of the law – his wife and partner, Anna (Jessica Chastain), comes from a family where such problems are solved with a gun, and advises him to think likewise.
Writer director J.C. Chandor follows up his near-wordless All is Lost with a film where everyone talks pretty much non-stop as they try to keep their heads above water at a time beset by a rising tide of violence and corruption. There’s a desperation running throughout this film that makes it more than just another business thriller. It’s not hard to believe that this was the period where science fiction was predicting cities would soon collapse into lawlessness. Through it all Issac cuts like a knife, giving a steely, subtle performance as a man determined to do as close to the right thing as he can – even as his options are slowly taken away from him. It’s tempting to call this retro, but in even back when they made films like this they were rarely this good.