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REEL BOB: ‘A Most Violent Year’

by on January 20, 2015
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Jessica Chastain stars as Anna Morales in A24's "A Most Violent Year," written and directed by J.C. Chandor

By Bob Bloom

“A Most Violent Year” is a film that takes effort to like. It is a finely wrought production, but not entertaining. The film tries to make a statement about violence, the immigrant experience, family and integrity, but it throws so much at you that some is lost in the mix.

The feature does offer impressive performances by Oscar Isaac as Abel Morales and Jessica Chastain as his wife, Anna.

The setting is New York in the winter of 1981, statistically one of the most crime-ridden periods in the history of the Big Apple. Morales runs a small heating-oil business, but he has a problem: His oil trucks are continually being hijacked.
Plus, he has just signed a note to buy riverfront property containing a refinery that would make it easier for him to unload his oil from ships.

Morales is under enormous pressure, but he won’t use illegal or violent tactics to retaliate, a decision that upsets his wife, the daughter of a Mafia big shot. She would prefer using muscle, while her husband would rather use persuasion and appealing to his foes’ better natures to achieve results. For her husband, achieving the American Dream through blood would be a nightmare.

Writer-director J.C. Chandor eschews violence, despite the title, in favor of mood and characterization. The violence Chandor is displaying is more mental and emotional than physical. But it’s difficult to grasp his theme because the movie feels repetitious and, at times, pretentious. It’s as if he wants to make a gangster piece without the gangsters.

You have to slog through “A Most Violent Year,” and when all is said and done you ask yourself if the effort was worth it. The film is rather staid; it lacks momentum and pacing. At a couple of junctures, it springs to life like an uncoiled rattlesnake, but then recoils and crawls about its mundane business. The film’s best moments center on those in which Isaac and Chastain argue the merits of the course their future should take.

She is like an East Coast Lady Macbeth, pushing her husband on a course that could lead to his doom, while he is more levelheaded knowing that the right words are more potent than any weapon.

“A Most Violent Year” makes you work hard, at times too hard. It leaves you exhausted, so much so that despite its merits, you lack the strength to embrace it.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at Reel Bob ( and The Film Yap ( He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes:

4 YAPS out of 5
(R), violence and language

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