AFI Fest 2014 Review: ‘A Most Violent Year’

A Most Violent Year Oscar Isaac Jessica Chastain

 

A Most Violent Year may inadvertently be the perfect drama for the NRA argument. I’m sure the period piece gangster story was conceived independently but it is most effective as a dissection  of the “only defense against a gun is another gun” mantra. On the whole, the film’s greatest strengths may actually make it underwhelming, but no doubt it is interesting.

Abel (Oscar Isaac) runs an oil company in 1981 New York and some assailants have been hijacking his trucks, some even coming to his house. The loss of product and threats of violence jeopardize Abel’s latest business venture so he goes about trying to settle his affairs nonviolently.

Abel is wise enough to know that arming his drivers, or his own wife (Jessica Chastain), is only likely to create more violence in a crossfire. We’re also talking about unlicensed guns in this story, which is unequivocally illegal, but Abel’s thought remains sound. Of course, there wouldn’t be a movie if people listened to Abel so his worries come true and he still has to deal with the consequences.

 

A Most Violent Year JC Chandor

Related: AFI Fest 2014 Review: ‘Inherent Vice’

 

What strengthens this drama is that it is all so civil. Everyone is articulate, even the teamsters. When Abel talking to his sales team, bankers, gangsters or even his wife, the conversations result in everyone understanding each other. They’re not questioning or deceiving each other, or even pressuring. They’re just explaining their positions. It’s all so civil. Even when characters get volatile, their tone is cool.

That’s a high benchmark for any human interaction to aspire but also means A Most Violent Year is a very understated thriller. It’s cool that the action is real. People fall down when running and get scared when brandishing a gun. The thugs are just working themselves. They don’t care about anyone’s company. It still requires a major coincidence for Abel to get in on the action but how else was he going to confront the hijackers?

Abel’s wife Anna is only in a few scenes but each one counts. Their relationship is a paradox of a great ally and a new fire that needs to be put out. Elyes Gabel is also great as the truck driver traumatized by the hijackings. 

Watching Abel try to save his empire is interesting, admirable that he wants to do it above board. Perhaps the film never quite convinces us that the company is worth saving, except for the fact that Abel is the protagonist, but I like his style. A Most Violent Year is not a memorable favorite or anything, but I am glad it exists.

 

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Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.