There’s a lot to like about A Most Violent Year (AMVY). It’s not often that what could possibly, (if we’re really stretching the definition), be considered a gangster film of sorts, refuses to be channeled too far into familiar old tried and trusted territory. AMVY instead focuses on businessman Abel Morales and his efforts to resist the slide into a gangster lifestyle which increasingly looks like his only option as the justifications to do so, pile up.
Oscar Isaac is superbly cast in this lead role; a serious yet charming, likeable and honourable businessman, a part he plays with great conviction and gravitas, not too dissimilar to a less combustible DeNiro or Pacino in their pomp.
In many ways, the film’s title is misleading. 1981 it seems was indeed a most violent year in New York City; if we trawl back through the celluloid archives, there was many a film made in that era that will testify to that; from straight forward gangster flicks to territorial gang movies depicting areas of New york City as total no-go zones. I dare say there was a fair amount of truth in such depictions, although prone to a little Hollywood licence, I’d imagine.
What is evident though from AMVY, is that the early 80s was a pretty unforgiving time for Abel Morales. If trying to operate a fuel supply business in New York City whilst your supply trucks are being picked off by opportunistic gunmen, intent on selling the contents to corrupt industry competition, is not enough, there’s the biggest business deal of your life in the balance, not to mention the tax man, hard on your tail, looking for any reason possible, to ruin you.
Testing times, but all addressed by Morales’ pragmatic approach and an unshakeable determination to ‘do the right thing.’
Director J.C Chandor succeeds in telling a very gritty, understated tale of corruption and honour in trying times; a film that possesses a feel and sense of realism rarely found in mainstream releases these days.
It’s not without fault and at times can feel a little under-done in both plot and character development and admittedly, it’s a slow burner that will probably leave the special effects / high-speed junky generation of film-goers somewhat frustrated by its considered, often conservative direction, but AMVY’s refusal to sell out to over-dramaticism, violence (ironically) and hyperbole, is very much the film’s chief triumph.
An underrated, understated, engaging effort that’s well worth a look.