A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year ★★★★

A supremely classy drama, impeccably performed by leads Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain and elegantly directed by J.C. Chandor, the very patiently constructed story of an oil company owner's attempt to grow his prosperous business whilst trying to remain above the fray in an industry ruled by men willing to break all rules, subtly layers detail upon detail as tensions simmer whilst he comes to terms with what he must do to realise his ambitions. As with Margin Call, the backdrop here is a pivotal moment in New York's recent history when, in 1981, the city witnessed a record high crime wave, and like the earlier film, the true enemy is an indifference to moral consideration rather than an overt desire to do evil. Similarly, the mounting intensity stems from the foreboding sense of dread that hides behind every corner, whether in the back streets of Brooklyn or the suburbs of Westchester, and the growing recognition that nobody keeps their hands clean forever. Isaac is tremendous, providing a magnetic centre who rivets attention with every carefully calculated move, whilst the poised Chastain is coiled like a rattlesnake as his cooly perceptive wife, outwardly dutiful to her husband but ready to pounce in order to protect her family if required, including the employment of measures he may not be willing or able to perform. This is a very fine film, recalling the rich melodramas of Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet and, more recently, James Gray, but the kind all too easily taken for granted, even arriving at a time when they are so seldom produced. This may partly be down to Chandor's ability to adapt his approach to the needs of the material at hand rather than imposing a singular authorial style. His presentation always feels consciously specific but is rarely showy, allowing the characters to retain the viewer's focus throughout, and this may be his best film yet.

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