A Most Violent Year – Review

Although he’d been on the scene for several years beforehand, it was with 2011’s Drive with which Oscar Isaac most notably came to prominence. In the four years since, the young actor has quietly yet steadily earned himself a notable repertoire as one of the finest character actors of his generation; with comparisons to a seventies-era DeNiro abundant from those championing his body of work. A Most Violent Year continues this streak in fine form, and – in case we needed it – confirms yet again that Isaac is indeed one to watch, the out-and-out star of tomorrow.

Taking place across the entirety of 1981 in New York City, A Most Violent Year sees Isaac as the immigrant owner of a trucking company; struggling to cling to his legitimate business methods amidst an onslaught of corrupt under-table dealings, a Federal investigation, and the possibility of an all-out war erupting on the streets. With its period setting, it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill Al Pacino movie of decades gone by; in the hands of Isaac and director J.C. Chandor however, it’s something ever so slightly more notable.

Isaac’s ability to completely reconfigure his physicality is used to great effect here, his Morales a man of conflicting ideologies with the world around him, yet holding tightly to his beliefs and morality. Entrenched deep within the character, Isaac is a natural in the role; not only wholly engaging but immersive and investable as well. While Jessica Chasten provides solid support meanwhile, it’s Albert Brooks’ turn as Morales’ trusted attorney that provides the young star with the most intriguing drama. With the same disturbingly endearing charm he brought to his minor role in Drive, Brooks remains an interesting quantity outside of the dramatic comedy genre and easily one of the film’s finer attributes.

Writer/director Chandor meanwhile proves to be both a blessing and a curse to the project. On the directorial front, his work is second to none; created a grounded and realistic period setting without ever getting hung up on the nostalgic glam and costumier-porn of his surroundings in the way which sinks so many other similar tales (see American Hustle for a prime example). It’s in his capacity as writer in which Chandor falls short; his script elegantly and soulfully written, yet lacking the suitable pace with which to keep proceedings from lagging. Slow, but thankfully not dull; A Most Violent Year suffers largely at the behest of this pacing issue and renders what could have been a crime tale to rival the likes of Serpico inert by contrast, held above water by its visuals and its increasingly impressive lead.

Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and on Slam Dunk Cinema, available every Saturday via iTunes and all good podcast apps.

In it
Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks
Behind it
J.C. Chandor

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