‘A Most Violent Year’ Is Just Business, Not Personal

by Trey Hock on January 31, 2015

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Down]

J.C. Chandor’s latest feature film, A Most Violent Year, is being hailed by some as The Godfather for our time.

When you look at the plot structure, this comparison may ring true, but A Most Violent Year lacks the emotional impact of Coppola’s masterpiece.

Set in 1981, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a less than lawful oil distributor, tries to secure a riverfront holding facility that will give him a distinct advantage over his competitors. When his rivals use violent means to disrupt Abel’s supply chain, his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) threatens to get her own criminal family to retaliate.

The rise of a crime mogul, his involvement with local government and interactions with rival crime families all have the trappings of The Godfather. Oscar Isaac gives another impressive and stoic performance as the businessman willing to sacrifice his morality to secure his empire. Jessica Chastain takes a risk with her role, playing the impulsive and streetwise Anna. I’m not sure I’m convinced by Chastain’s portrayal, but it is exciting to see her stretch her repertoire.

What A Most Violent Year lacks that The Godfather has in abundance is emotional appeal. In The Godfather, we feel loss as Michael sacrifices the best of himself to take over Vito’s empire. Coppola shows us Vito’s sadness and regret as he watches his son transform into a monster. Concerns of family and the needs of business are in direct conflict.

Chandor gives us no such subplot. The entire focus of the film is on Abel’s business ambitions. So we are never allowed to see the emotional toll it may have. Anna confronts Abel about protecting their family, and Abel responds that he will. Struggle for family and business never conflict in a way that pulls at the viewer emotionally.

This emotional flatness, some might consider it control, but I feel that is far too forgiving, is not new to Chandor’s films. The coldness worked in All Is Lost. In fact, my criticism of that film was of the two or three moments of forced sentimentality.

A Most Violent Year is a very different film from All Is Lost, and emotional appeal could have added significant weight to many of the choices that Abel and Anna must face.

In the end, I feel that A Most Violent Year is a well acted experiment that falls flat because of Chandor’s direction.

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 joyce brandenburg February 9, 2015 at 10:05 pm

I want to see this movie.

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2 joyce brandenburg February 9, 2015 at 10:07 pm

I want passes.

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