Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Albert Brooks, Ashley Williams, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Harris Yulin, Elizabeth Marvel, Giselle Eisenberg, Robert Clohessy
Runtime: 2 hrs
Rating: NC-16 (Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 5 February 2015
Synopsis: A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a searing crime drama set in New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically the most dangerous year in the city’s history. From acclaimed writer/director J.C. Chandor, and starring Oscar Isaac (INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS) and Jessica Chastain (ZERO DARK THIRTY), this gripping story plays out within a maze of rampant political and industry corruption plaguing the streets of a city in decay. J.C. Chandor’s third feature examines one immigrant’s determined climb up a morally crooked ladder, where simmering rivalries and unprovoked attacks threaten his business, family, and– –above all––his own unwavering belief in the righteousness of his path. With A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, Chandor journeys in a bold new direction, toward the place where best intentions yield to raw instinct, and where we are most vulnerable to compromise what we know to be right.
Ever since he sang the blues in Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), we knew Oscar Isaac is the man to watch out for. Not many people have taken notice of the Guatamela born actor, who has been in flicks like 2006’s The Nativity Story (where he totally pulled off the look for Jesus’s stepfather Joseph), 2010’s Robin Hood (he was the villainous Prince John in Ridley Scott’s interpretation of the beloved story) and 2011’s Drive (you were probably too busy drooling over Ryan Gosling to pay attention to him). With the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens (he plays a character names Poe Dameron) and X Men: Apocalypse (he is the titular super villain with scary mutant powers), the 35 year old Isaac is the one you’ll want to root for.
Before the major blockbusters, his latest big screen outing in J C Chandor’s third feature film is a fine example why his screen presence is the type we have been missing for a long time. Isaac plays an immigrant who is trying to expand his business and capitalise on the bustling opportunities in New York. The problem? It is the year 1981, where the city is rampant with violence and corruption. Amidst the dreaded decay that is perpetuating the city, will our protagonist maintain his stand on not being involved in illegal dealings, or will he and his family be inevitably part of New York City’s violent history?
As the promotional poster of this crime drama film suggests, things are not going to be all cheery and bright. Expect high tension and unsettling undertones in this 125 minute movie, featuring a tightly written screenplay by Chandor. The 41 year old American filmmakers’ previous works Margin Call (2011) and All is Lost (2013) have been lauded by critics, and he continues his exceptionally outstanding work here. The classy production boasts chillingly appealing cinematography by Bradford Young (Middle of Nowhere, Vara: A Blessing), well executed editing by Ron Patane and a moody underscore by Alex Ebert.
It has also been a while since we saw a movie that focuses on its script and cast’s performances, and not gimmicky tactics like fancy
While the movie is set in the cold season of 1981’s New York City, there are characters which we can identify with regardless of setting. The up and coming Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Interstellar) plays Isaac’s wife, a woman whose mafia background influences her to tell her husband to fight violence with violence. The occasional outbursts in the 37 year old actress’s portrayal of an aggressive wife are adequately handled. She may have been overlooked by the Academy at the upcoming Oscars, but one thing for sure – the limelight will be on Chastain for years to come.
Her co star Isaac is perfect in the movie – he reminds you of a younger Al Pacino. Under Chandor’s direction, the actor shines in this multi layered character. You empathise with the moral battles he goes through, and respects his stature as a business owner and a man of the house. The tempo of the movie is well paced – you go on a journey with the characters (wonderful performances by the supporting cast Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo and Alessandro Nivola) and become aptly arrested in the finely made film.
(This understated slow burner is well worth your time, especially for Oscar Isaac’s stellar performance)
Review by John Li