Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is an immigrant businessman trying to grow his heating oil business in 1981, statistically one of the most violent years on record in New York City. His delivery truck drivers are being held up at gunpoint and his trucks stolen on a regular basis. As a man trying to play it straight in a business rife with corruption, Abel refuses to arm his drivers and is under pressure from the teamsters to do just that. He’s also trying to complete a large land deal that will expand his business exponentially all while being investigated by a tenacious district attorney, Lawrence (David Oyelowo). As if that’s not enough, he’s receiving threats at home to his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), and their children. Abel must navigate these treacherous waters and resist becoming like his enemies.
While it is a little slow and drags here and there, A Most Violent Year is an excellent film. It’s just a straight up solid drama with fantastic performances all around. I was mesmerized by Abel’s story and really enjoyed how Chandor keeps the audience guessing about his leading man. I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop with Abel—to see if he was as stand up a guy as he was proclaiming. His home dynamic is also fairly complex with Anna being the daughter of a gangster and the man from whom Abel bought his business. There’s constant tension in this film to the point where it becomes almost unbearable and even when you think you can let out the breath you’ve been holding for most of the film, the story won’t let you.
The cast is fantastic in this one. Isaac delivers another measured, nuanced performance as the audience watches a man struggle with what’s right and what is easy. Chastain is great as Anna, a woman used to getting her way and one that wants her husband to step up and protect what they’ve built together. Oyelowo doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but with what he does have, he totally destroys the image you have of him as Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma. Albert Brooks also puts in a nice turn as Abel’s lawyer.
There isn’t much to say about A Most Violent Year except that if you’re a fan of adult dramas, you should definitely see it. It’s not a very showy picture as all the performances are quite subtle in their power, but it’s definitely a worthwhile watch. It may be a little slow for some moviegoers, but I had a great time visiting Abel’s world.