A Most Violent Year (2014)


When I saw a trailer for J.C. Chandor’s 80s crime drama, A Most Violent Year, I was intrigued, but I had some doubts. I was worried that the film would try to imitate other 80s mafia movies like Goodfellas or Scarface. Luckily A Most Violent Year instead carves out its own niche in a somewhat worn out genre. A Most Violent Year is the story of Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an immigrant trying to create a successful business in 1981, New York City’s ‘most violent’ year statistically.

A Most Violent Year is unique because despite its title there is hardly any violence shown on screen. There are a few moments, but nothing compared to your typical crime film these days. The threat of violence is very important to the film though, it permeates the plot and is always in the background, usually through the radio. When violence is shown it has a powerful impact, especially the last scene.

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac sporting some great coats.
Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac sporting some great coats.

The most refreshing and enjoyable aspect of the film to me is its perspective on its protagonist, Abel Morales. A lot of films are heavy handed when it comes to their characters and the ‘message’ they want to send. People are often portrayed as black and white with no shades of grey. But A Most Violent Year is different. Abel isn’t portrayed as a ‘hero.’ He is a good man, but there are times when the audience questions what he does. I wasn’t always sure he was right in his decisions. Sometimes I thought, hell, maybe he should arm all his drivers. Maybe he should let his wife (Jessica Chastain) involve her father to solve their problems. But Abel sticks to his choice, and he manages to not do it in a ‘preachy,’ ‘I’m better than you’ way. Oscar Isaac always keeps Abel likeable and sympathetic, whereas another actor might have made him annoying. A Most Violent Year doesn’t have that stamp of righteousness on it like big Hollywood productions have. And that’s why I liked it. It is a very personal film that made me really care for its characters. Jessica Chastain is good in the film, but there are a few moments when her character threatens to turn the film into a gangster cliche.
A Most Violent Year is definitely a good film, but it is very slow. I enjoy the risks it takes and Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are very good. But it’s not a film that I would watch again. I would recommend the movie to film buffs who enjoy intelligent films. But I don’t think it is a movie that the average film goer would enjoy. But maybe I’m underestimating people. A Most Violent Year gets 7 camel colored coats out of 10.