MOVIE REVIEW: “A Most Violent Year” stars Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens), Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, Zero Dark Thirty), Elyes Gabel (World War Z, Scorpion [TV series]), Albert Brooks (Finding Nemo, Drive), David Oyelowo (Selma, Nightingale), Jerry Adler (Manhattan Murder Mystery, In Her Shoes), Quinn Meyers (Hunter, The Con Is On), Glenn Fleshler (True Detective [TV series], Billions [TV series]), and Peter Gerety (Charlie Wilson’s War, Paul Blart: Mall Cop). It is written and directed by J.C. Candor (All Is Lost, Margin Call). Set in New York, 1981, this film follows Abel Morales (Isaac), an immigrant businessman who fights for his company when a string of of oil distribution trucks are getting robbed by competitors, all while he is attempting to close the biggest deal of his life.
Part of my college directing class curriculum involves students splitting into groups and recreating a scene from a horribly acted film. Whether the movie in general is terrible doesn’t necessarily matter (selections have ranged from “The Room” to “Spider-Man 2”). The bottom line is, my team chose “A Most Violent Year,” a film I have never heard about until the project. When you look into a feature like this, it’s difficult to imagine it being a bad one. It’s an A24 picture, headed by the likes of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. The trailers boast stunning visuals and a compelling narrative about an oil distribution boss having difficulties keeping his business afloat when competitors rob his trucks. What could go wrong? Truth be told, it isn’t an awful flick; it simply has bad character development. I’ve talked about how vital characters are to films before. Without strong figures, your movie is likely to flop. And when you have class talent such as Isaac and Chastain, you’d expect a solid piece that has good characters to work with. On paper, “A Most Violent Year” sounds like a great experience, but the execution of it fails to hit the mark. Let’s elaborate. Right out of the gate, this film establishes itself as a beautiful visual experience. The cinematography is great, with an awesome early 80’s backdrop to make things all the better. Along with that is a good score which, while not always present, drives scenes home for the better part of the movie (albeit a specific scene that doesn’t fit the mood of the background music). For the most part, the dialogue is written well enough to be engaging and kept me focused throughout the entirety of the film’s run. I’d even argue that Isaac and Chastain’s performances weren’t bad, but rather playing to the material the best they could, which flows into the point of this whole analysis piece: the character development lacks consequence. I think the most interesting aspect of this story is how nice a guy Isaac’s character Abel is. For a man who owns an oil distribution company and never get greedy or slimy like his competitors is a fresh, if not off-putting, concept. However, there is nothing Abel does that is compelling; on top of that, there are no consequences to his actions. I thought for the longest time Abel would rebel against his oppressors and become ruthless, but he didn’t. I also thought that the things that he did kind of do (money laundering, making threats) would come back to bite him at the end, but they didn’t. Everything that could’ve happened to him cleared up in a matter of minutes, often times coincidentally. It’s as if the writer didn’t want to have things spiral too out of control, so he made things easier on himself. Why have Abel push his wife away for laundering money from their business (and make things “complicated”) when he could just go along with it in the next scene? By the end, Abel was a weak character who offered no depth, making his journey and the conflict around him flat. Granted, I was engaged for the whole experience, but it’s only when I realized that this film was going nowhere that I became detached. Having the plot control Abel rather than have it ride on him made for a forgettable viewing experience, and I’m sure for some it will come off as boring. I know my watch party checked the time every now and then. It’s a bummer that features with as much promise as “A Most Violent Year” crumble under lack of a strong character. Abel is the center of this tale, and when that center doesn’t grab the movie by the reigns, it leads the audience yawning; even more so when the story doesn’t allow for actions to have consequences. As I said, this isn’t a bad film. It has good technical aspects to it and there are some solidly written scenes, but that’s all this movie is worth by the end. If you’re looking for a riveting experience that’ll lead to a big finish, you won’t find it here. FINAL SCORE: 71%= Burnt Popcorn
Here is the trailer: