Review: A Most Violent Year

2 Feb , 2015 | Scott Tremper  

J.C. Chandor knocks it out of the park, once again.

Margin Call, All Is Lost, and now A Most Violent Year. Chandor is on an incredible roll with his first three feature films. While Margin Call and All Is Lost were both fantastic films, A Most Violent Year elevates him to a new level, with his finest film yet.

Taking place in New York City, circa 1981, A Most Violent Year tells the story of Abel Morales (Oscar Issac) as he tries to make an honest living during what was considered one of the heaviest years of crime in the city’s history. Owning and operating a heating oil company, Abel decides to take a risky venture, placing his entire life savings as a deposit towards an opportunity for expansion. Depending on his own credibility for a bank loan to cover the remaining costs, life begins to get shaky as he juggles an investigation from the district attorney, finding out who has been robbing his fuel trucks, and keeping his family safe and happy.

Throughout his struggle Abel has his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) at his side. The daughter of a known gangster in the New York area, she has seemingly straightened up and found happiness with Abel, but it’s apparent that her past is waiting to flare up when Abel’s business starts to invade their home life. Both Issac and Chastain give excellent performances as Mr. and Mrs. Morales, giving an honest sense of humanity to the characters.

Albert Brooks also plays a large part of Abel’s life, as his lawyer and general counsel, helping Abel to broker the investment and battle the legal woes brought against him.

A Most Violent Year is one of the best looking features of 2014. It’s shot in a gorgeous fashion, with top-notch color correction, giving the film a distinct feel that perfectly matches the tone. The score from Alex Ebert (whose previous work on Chandor’s All Is Lost brought him some awards) is wonderful, balancing the dark dramatic film with the 80s synthesizers of the time.

I walked into A Most Violent Year expecting one kind of film, and walked out loving something completely different. It’s the perfect slow burn – it never bores the audience, and releasing timed tidbits to build tension in a way that is incredibly rare, even from the most talented of directors. All of the performances are fantastic, and wrapped up in a near perfect filmmaking package. Every shot, every word, and even the opening title sequence, come together to create something special.

For the life of me I can’t understand how A Most Violent Year hasn’t received more nominations for awards. As I’m looking back over what I consider the best of last year, this film fits in amongst some of the top contenders. Hopefully it’s current wider release will at the very least get it on the radar of more people – it deserves all the attention and praise it can get.


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Scott Tremper

Scott works in media creation and marketing, but lives with a passion for pop culture - video games, movies, tv, music, even celebrity gossip. He loves learning what people like and why. He started XP Gain to get himself writing and talking about all the things he loves.

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