Saturday, 21 February 2015

Review: A Most Violent Year

Year: 2014 (U.K Release 2015)
Director: J. C. Chandor
Screenplay: J. C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks
Synopsis is here:

It is extraordinarily cliché to say, yet you suddenly realise that while watching A Most Violent Year, the implications behind the words are what give the film its power, rather than the words themselves. It’s a film that has garnered a muted response, despite solid word of mouth.  A part of me feels that A Most Violent Year’s more restrained approach may be the reason. In spite of the film’s sharp and pointed moments of violence, it’s a film that hints at a world that has already suffered bloodshed. The film has no need to be overtly explicit because we feel it’s already been down that road. The disorder is being normalised.

The film, like Oscar Issac’s immigrant businessman; Abel, is on a constant simmer. We wait impatiently to see Abel be pushed into the murky depths of corrupted competitors, bias D.A’s (A solid David Oyelowo) and secretive wives, but we should know that he’s already keeping his head above water. Issac looks like he’s channeling Godfather era Pacino, but this man is struggling much harder to push back from darker forces that wish to consume him. Set against the bankrupt, crime ridden era of the early 1980’s which New York City was at one of its lowest ebbs, Issac plays a man who throttles his frustrations so they only ever so slightly peak over the surface. His drivers are scared, he implores them to be strong. His wife (a steely, Lady Macbeth-like Jessica Chastain) suggests fighting the violence in the city with a force of their own, and he tries hard to refrain.  J.C Chandor taut screenplay and direction paints Abel as a delicate blend of honesty and anti-villain. A clean looking screw, being wound tighter by tighter by the grimy tools around him. Yet Isaac’s poker faced portrayal veils Abel with an added layer of complexity.  We’re never sure if he’s been swayed or remaining strong.

As opposed to the romanticised view of gangster dealings in line with the likes of Coppola and co, this film shares a brittle tone with films like A History of Violence (2005) and We Own the Night (2007). Chandor’s film envelops each scene with a similar suffocating sense of foreboding. With A Most Violent Year however, the film often feels chillier. The warm, golden colour tones are not only juxtaposed with the soft white snow (a fortunate accident during production), but cinematographer Darius Khondji’s use of negative space. Characters often find themselves isolated within the frame, only smothered by the crooked environment.

This is why I loved A Most Violent Year. The film never builds to a typical, clichéd crescendo. There’s no orgy of violence despite the film’s title. Each scene burrows under the skin and festers in a way that’s hard to wipe off. Its climax is unsettling in its subtlety while the outcome chills the nerves with its tiny reminder of how far the films particular type of corruption reaches and who exactly gets hurt. That’s the thing about the film. It’s difficult, it’s adult and holds more shades of grey than Christian.