That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

A Most Violent Year

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 1:05 pm—Film

A Most Violent Year (USA 2014, Action/Crime/Drama), Writer/Director: J.C. Chandor

A Most Violent Year is a tightly packed nutshell of mood and American ideology that creates a palpable tension from beginning to end. It’s as if the thing might crack open at any moment, spewing forth the violence it alludes to (but rarely shows) and releasing the microcosm of America it contains, allowing its dream-woven seed to take root.

The year is 1981, historically one of New York City’s most violent years. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a hardworking and ambitious immigrant who owns a heating oil business. He’s poised to close the biggest deal yet of his career, but his success is threatened by attacks against his salespeople and a growing number of violent robberies that send his drivers to the hospital.

As his last name suggests, Abel is committed to doing the right thing (or at least “the most right thing” to achieve one’s goals). But his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), who is a gangster’s daughter, has other ideas about how to get things done: “You’re not going to like what’ll happen once I get involved.”

References to The Godfather abound, as well as to Macbeth; Chastain channels Lady Macbeth in much the same way Marcia Gay Harden does in Mystic River.

The American Dream also features prominently, with two opposing experiences playing out through Abel and his driver Julian (Elyes Gabel), who doesn’t fair nearly as well in a world of violence, greed, ambition and corruption. Ultimately, it seems that success comes down to who cowers in the face of fear and who chases it into the ground. (In Abel’s words, “When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump. Otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life. And that, I can’t do.”)

A Most Violent Year is a captivating film. It’s a slow-going train (as Blaine Allan, one of my Queen’s University film profs, would say, “it moves at a measured pace”), but nothing is extraneous. Every stop along the way, from the dialogue to, for example, Abel’s running sequences, reveals something important about the plot or the characters. Much like Abel’s approach to business, the film is efficient and well oiled.

It also does a marvelous job of creating mood, thanks in no small part to Bradford Young’s dark, beautiful cinematography and Alex Ebert’s haunting score. And it features wonderful performances across the board, most notably from its leads. As Abel, Isaac is so very different from his role in Inside Llewyn Davis, but every bit as good. Chastain also continues to display her staggering versatility (see The Tree of Life, Take Shelter and Zero Dark Thirty).

A Most Violent Year closes with an impactful ending that comes as something of a surprise—a final stop after you thought the ride was over, and one that brings Abel’s character into sharper focus than ever before.

A most impressive film. I’ll be on the lookout for whatever comes next from its writer/director, J.C. Chandor, and from the always excellent Isaac and Chastain.

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