J.C Candor’s ‘A Most Violent Year’ is set in New York in the year 1981. Statistically, it was New York City’s most crime ridden year. The film centres on Abel (Oscar Isaac), an immigrant who starts up a home oil business with his wife Anna. However, when his trucks begin to get hijacked on the freeway the NYPD start to investigate his affairs. Believing in the American Dream, Abel is passionate about his business and his family. His wife (Jessica Chastain) celebrates all of his successes but is equally demeaning when things begin to awry. She is frighteningly manipulative to a Shakespearean degree; attacking his manhood and demanding he do everything necessary to protect his family. As things unravel Abel sees that everything is crumbling around him and goes to great lengths to protect everything close to him.
The atmosphere of the movie is reminiscent of Coppola’s The Godfather. Oscar Isaac gives a Michael Corleone like performance of a man attempting to retain his honor in a city rife with political and economic corruption. Jessica Chastain is cunning and fierce as she effortlessly goes from loving wife and mother to the frighteningly persuasive enforcer of Abel’s decisions. Their scenes together are a fascinating study of a couple struggling to maintain their dignity in an otherwise toxic environment.
This film is a slow burner. ‘Violent’ in the title may lead audiences to believe this is a gangster film in the style of Scorsese or DePalma but it is not. The violence is psychological and its execution outstanding. ‘A Most Violent Year’ is an intriguing study into the American Dream with fantastic performances from the two leads. The most astonishing, however, is that you will believe this movie was made in 1981.