“A Most Violent Year” was a pretty good movie, well shot, and with a top-class cast – but narratively, it was nothing special, and I did feel that we had already seen a couple of very similar films before. To wrap up my criticism: J.C. Chandor could have moved things along just a little quicker, in order to intensify the movie. A couple of scenes – like the thieves accidentally attacking the same truck driver twise, or Abel Morales coincidentally coming around right when they robbed another truck – felt a little convoluted and “movie-logicy” to me. And a particular reencounter near the end felt rather forced.
What I liked first and foremost about “A Violent Year” is that it depicts a non-violent man, who desperately tries to continue to live by his codex, even though his advisers, his colleagues, society and even his wife try to persuade him to act and to hit back. There’s this predominant conception in our society that when – as a man – you desperately try to forego violence, you’re less of a man because of that. It’s addressed perfectly in the movie with a conversation between Abel and his wife Anna. Earlier – to his shock and disgust – she bought a gun, because “one of us has to protect our family”, and she’s even calling him a pussy for not “manning up”. As a non-violent man myself, I could very well relate to him and his struggle. Which is also why I still don’t know what to think about the fact that ultimately, even he had to resort to violence, albeit only briefly, before catching himself and pulling himself together. On the one hand, I really wish the movie would have shown him being successful despite the fact that he didn’t give in to violence. On the other hand, there’s definitely an interesting message to be found in a film about a man who so desperately tries to avoid using force, but who ultimately gets backed into a corner – and pressurized by society – so far that even he, a gentle, peaceful man, cannot resist any longer. Thus, “A Most Violent Year” makes a point that all of us, ultimately, are capable of violence. It’s just a question of how far we need to be pushed. Not quite the message I hoped for, but probably more true-to-life and realistic anyway.
The cast is really excellent, especially Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. I have yet to be disappointed by either of them, and they continued their winning streak with their performances here. And while Jessica Chastain hit it big recently, one can only hope that “The Force Awakens” is finally going to put Oscar Isaac on the map of the majority of moviegoers. He reminded me very much of young Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” (especially Part II) in this – visually and performance-wise. Chastain also was simply wonderful as his wife. There were also a couple of great, strong scenes, as well as a couple of quite funny moments (like with the hidden account). And J.C. Chandor’s direction as well as Bradford Young’s camera work were quite stylish. I especially liked the shots during sunrise and sunset, with their yellowish taint. Nevertheless, “A Most Violent Year” only occasionally managed to really grip me, and overall, moves at too leisurely a pace. It’s a good (albeit hardly revolutionary) film, well-shot, superbly acted, with a nice contemplation of violence in our society, and a couple of strong moments – but as a story, I found it to be merely serviceable.