J.C. Chander’s latest and third film, A Most Violent Year, takes us back to 1981 New York City, statistically the most violent year in New York City’s history. Crime, corruption and violence were roaming the streets of New York City. During this time, morality and what is ethical is tested and often times corrupted in a person’s behavior, persona and way of thinking. We see this being tested in A Most Violent Year‘s protagonist, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) as he tries to save his oil business and his family from corruption.
Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales, an immigrant who is living the American dream as the owner of a very lucrative oil delivery business, which he bought from his wife Anna’s (Jessica Chastain) gangster father (who is currently serving jail time for reasons unknown). As Abel’s oil business is on the verge of growing and booming, danger and deceit begin to consume Abel by his rivals who want to take his business down and a District Attorney (David Oyelowo) who is determined to prove that Abel is guilty of tax fraud and evasion. As the corruption grows, Abel is driven to desperate measures to protect his family and his business.
A Most Violent Year is a sophistically crafted film that pays homage to the crime films of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s such as Coppola’s Godfather and the New York crime films of Sidney Lumet. A Most Violent Year, however, isn’t the typical crime film of an innocent and righteous man who happens to become corrupted, enjoys the wealth he has obtained from his illegal wrongdoings and at the end of the film ends in a doom. A Most Violent Year, would be the anti-crime/gangster film. Abel’s character, who resembles the character of early Pachino with his proper and calm demeanor is a character who strives to be the most righteous and morally correct in all of his business dealings even though he knows that the world around him is crumbling. Abel tries very much to not give in to the “gangster way” even though he knows that it might put his business and his family in jeopardy. This ends up becoming a problem for Abel’s wife Anna who grows tired of Abel’s lack of confrontation and masculinity. Anna eventually decides to take matters into her own hands. In this film, the role of the male (Abel) and female (Anna) are the reversal of the gender roles seen in a typical gangster/crime film. The wife in this film, Anna, is not the passive and enclosed wife as seen in regular crime films. Anna in this film is ferocious and will do whatever is takes to save the business and her husband even if it means having to resort to illegal activity. Anna’s consciousness isn’t controlled by her moral code while the contemplative Abel’s is.
Although A Most Violent Year features the word violent in its title, there is actually little violence in this film, a cure from the usual violence galore, shoot ’em up films of today (thankfully). Criminally neglected by the Academy (of course), A Most Violent Year is a pulpy, atmospheric and gritty film that intellectual fans of the crime genre will appreciate.