Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain star in this drama about the struggles of a man trying to project his business. New York City, 1981 is considered to be one of the most dangerous years in the city’s history. Abel Morales (Isaac) is businessman, who runs the “Standard Heating Oil” company with his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain). Abel just put down a deposit for a new terminal, for which he has thirty days to pay in full. However, a wrench in thrown into Abel’s plans for the company, as District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) starts an investigation about possible criminal activity, which scares off investors. With him facing the additional problem of his fuel trucks being hijacked, Abel must make some difficult decisions to protect what he has built for himself.
Based on its title, it can be easy to assume that A Most Violent Year would be a violent crime drama of sorts. However, the title of the film is instead referencing the state of corruption and decay in New York City in the year 1981. The actual plot of the film focuses on Abel Morales and his efforts to protect his oil business, with the corruption in the city threatening to destroy what he spent two decades trying to build. Even though his wife Anna was the daughter of a gangster, Abel tries to take the path that is the most right.
In many ways, A Most Violent year can be seen somewhat as the story of a straight man, who slowly becomes more of a gangster, as he becomes backed into a corner. With there being pending legal action and Anna’s family reputation, many already assume that Abel is a gangster, despite him spending his life trying not to be one. As the situation gets more dire for Abel’s company, he must make some difficult decisions, which might send him down a darker path.
With him being a practical unknown only a few years ago, A Most Violent Year continues Oscar Isaac’s rise to stardom. However, the more showy role in the film is Jessica Chastain as Anna, who spends much of the film wearing cleavage-revealing attire and being a somewhat more morally ambiguous character than Abel. That said, even though she gets one big moment towards the end of the film, she slowly starts to disappear from the story for long stretches. Fresh off his acclaim for Selma, A Most Violent Year also features David Oyelowo in a small supporting role as District Attorney Lawrence. Rounding off the cast is a very straight-haired Albert Brooks as Abel’s attorney Andrew Walsh.
A Most Violent Year is an OK enough drama. That said, even though the film is trying to play itself off as a very straight and serious story, there are some moments within the film, which unintentionally incited laughs from the audience. The film gets a bit over-the-top at times, particularly moments involving Jessica Chastain’s character. However, as a whole, the film is still perfectly fine.7 | FAIR