The American Dream – life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Regardless what situation a person is born into, success can be attained where upward mobility is possible for anyone and everyone. It takes hard work, experience and patience to reach your goals and live out your true purpose. It’s how we are programmed to live and succeed in today’s environment. Some, however, choose to undercut the American dream by stealing and cutting corners making it more difficult for the honest person. That honest person than deems it necessary to stoop to the cheaters level to obtain the success when blood, sweat and tears have been poured already.
By any means necessary does the honest person have to think and ultimately act. There is no honor among the lowest of the low. A Most Violent Year glorifies the American dream and what it still means to someone who is honest and works hard for everything he’s gotten. Abel (Oscar Isaac) has built his heating & oil company with the dream of success in mind. But there are setbacks as thieves hijack his oil trucks in the middle of a highway. Abel is even buying new property to expand his business further. Along with his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) pleads Abel to fight violence with violence or she will get involved.
The setting of the 1980’s in New York is notoriously known to be the most violent in history. Crime is at an all-time high and it serves as one of the focal points of the film. The setting is a character in itself, but the only violence happens within the self-contained lives of the main characters. There aren’t any random homicides or muggings or any drug use but the violence that’s in the story is used purposefully and effectively to push the narrative forward. Every setback sets up for Abel to cross a line that he wants nothing to with. He’s pushed to his limit and his fear is becoming a person he doesn’t recognize.
“I told you. I wasn’t gonna continue to stand around and let these people come and get me and my children. Unlike you, who seems to be completely comfortable just standing around like some f***ing pussy, I decided to do something about it.”
For every decent man, there is a woman behind him ready to protect everything they have built and stand for. Anna is a cobra ready to strike at anyone who gets in the way of their success including Lawrence the DA (David Oyelowo). As soon as the treat of their children is involved, Anna arms herself for the inevitable to happen. Given the violent nature of the setting and what’s happening to Abel’s business, the police and Lawrence are somewhat reserved. There’s no urgency to clean up the streets. Writer/director J.C. Chandor understands the time period while letting the story unravel the way it’s meant to without too much surprise.
In fact, the script is put together very well. The characters behave in a way that is almost expected of them including Abel. He will do whatever is possible to protect his business and his family and that tension builds as the film moves forward. Glimpses of who Abel is scared of poke through and his tipping point comes but deep down he’s a good, decent man who thinks of the consequences before he acts or reacts to a situation. The polar opposite of Abel is one of his employees Julian (Elyes Gabel).
Julian is a driver for Abel’s Standard Heating oil company who gets hijacked. After returning to work from his healing bruises he is on the verge of being hijacked again. This time he has a gun with him and fights back against the thieves. The cops come and Abel flees the scene causing more damage to the company than he understands. Where Abel is strong and levelheaded (hence why he’s in charge) Julian is a coward who doesn’t have the strength to face his actions. As much as Abel attempts to be in control, he accepts that there are many things outside of his control in the environment. It’s all a test to see how good and decent he really is. Julian’s story can be compared to that of a greek tradgey – there is so much promise and positivity but the goodness he starts out with becomes corrupted by his surroundings.
“You should know that I have always taken the path that is most right. The result is never in question for me. Just what path do you take to get there, and there is always one that is most right. And that is what this is.”
The 1980’s back drop is fitting to that time era; the set design and clothing portray the era perfectly mixed perfectly with the crispness of the visual effects that make the city feel alive and look polished. Cinematographer Bradford Young captures the grittiness and intimate moments New York City has to offer. Even moments between characters feel intimate with the amount of close up shots and honest back and forth dialogue. Nothing stays too far from the vest with the direction from Candor, the verisimilitude is present throughout the course of the film.
A Most Violent Year pays homage to crime films in the likes of The Godfather & Taxi Driver. Chandor focuses on character development and a strong script rather than action in the same way Coppola & Scorsese does. As much as this film lives in its own universe you can’t help but see the comparisons. A Most Violent Year is a unique concept even with the sheer amount of crime films that have come before.
There isn’t a clear and present antagonist in the film to rival Abel. Instead the struggles Abel faces is internal within himself. He does so much to prove his decency that he almost loses himself. He never questions the ethical dilemma Anna causes and sometimes they seem to be out of tune with their conversations. This dream is bigger than he is, and he never loses sight of that. Oscar and Jessica have gripping chemistry together you can feel the love and pressure they have with one another as they define the term ride or die. Both are willing to take whatever measure to protect each other and what they have built. Yes, some of it is illegal but nothing can come between them that neither can handle. Even with all the competition around him ready to strike Abel has an air of calmness around him while Anna is ready to attack.
Overall, A Most Violent Year is a strong film about the American Dream from the perspective of a person of color and how they interpret it. Strong performances by Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain paired honest and relatable characters from the ensemble gives the feeling that this is based on a true story. It’s completely fiction but the emotion and motivations are what drive this film forward while it doesn’t stall or become stagnant. The color palette gives the vintage feeling without being to muted giving a vibrancy that can only be achieved with newer technology. If I were to rate A Most Violent Year, Id rate it a 4 out of 5.
So, tell me guys, have you seen A Most Violent Year and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
A Most Violent Year is written & directed by J.C. Chandor is Rated R and has an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. A Most Violent Year was released on November 13, 2014 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 5 minutes. A Most Violent Year can be purchased on Retailers such as iTunes, Google, & Vudu.
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