A Most Violent Year

January 28, 2015 at 2:06 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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A lot can be said about movie names, how they are chosen and how effective they are. Some are straight forward (“Selma”) and some pointlessly confusing (“Edge of Tomorrow”). Some are evocative and memorable (“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”) and others are not (“Two Days, One Night” or is it one day and two nights? Or three days and two nights?). When I heard the title, “A Most Violent Year,” I thought immediately of Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence;” a movie that started brilliantly and ended terribly in an explosion of cartoon violence that belied the thoughtfulness of the first half of that film. Here, I came expecting some similar level of violence. Instead, what I got was a thoughtful, slow moving and painstakingly honest period piece. Set in 1981, this film tells the story of a beleaguered business owner (Oscar Isaac, who has skyrocketed since staring in last years, “Inside Llewyn Davis”) who is trying to grow his company despite a government investigation and unknown crooks stealing from him. His mob-connected wife, played brilliantly by Jessica Chastain, keeps pushing him to deal with his problems in a less-than-legal way. He feels mounting pressure to resolve these issues while still maintaining his honesty. JC Chandor, whose two other films (“Margin Call” and “All Is Lost”) establish him as a director with a keen eye for and investment in realism, paces this story slowly. That is both its strength and its weakness. Everything that happens here seems completely believable. In fact, I imagine that something exactly like this was probably happening in the run-down and corrupt NYC of the early 80s. And, my guess is, if you actually lived it, it would feel like a pretty violent year. However, realistic levels of violence are not Cronenberg levels of violence and that means that “A Most Violent Year” may not satisfy standard movie-goer expectations. This is not “Scarface.” What it is, though, is an interesting window into a particular time in our history. It is also another vehicle for Chastain to prove that she is one of the best actors currently working. This performance, so full of quiet menace, deserved as Oscar nomination. She had all the best lines and her character crackled with potential, as though she could do something terrible at any moment. How much you enjoy this film will depend on how much you need to see that crackling explode and how much you are willing to simply bask in it’s glow.

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