The film is written and directed by J.C. Chandlor (Margin Call and All is Lost). The film stars Oscar Issacs (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty).
We follow Abel Morales (Issacs), a man pursuing the dream. Morales is a Columbian-born immigrant who has worked his way up from the bottom. He now owns Standard Heating a company he purchased from his wife’s (Chastain) father. Seeking to corner the market with a more profitable location he parts with a lot of money. This deal could revolutionize his business, but he must pay the remainder within 30 days. To add onto the stress of making this deal his trucks are being hijacked. The truck drivers are being robbed at gunpoint and sometimes beaten. On top of it all, his company is under investigation by the D.A. (Oyelowo). Although, Morales has tried to run his business as honest as he can he may not be able to resist getting his hands dirty.
The setting for the film is New York City, 1981. This year was statistically one of the most dangerous for NYC. The violence follows Abel through the winter. The scenes are set with the stark white snow a contrast to the darkness of the film.
The fashion helps a great deal with setting the scene. Isaacs is clad in a long camel colored trench coat and turtleneck sweaters. Chastain wears low cut blouses, tailored jackets, red lipstick, and manicured nails clutching cigarettes. Her look is very sophisticated and confident. The choice of dress seems realistic and not cliché or forced.
In the trailer Abel says, “The result is never in question. Just what path do you take to get there?”
This is the question that feeds the storyline of A Most Violent Year. A key difference to Chandor’s films is the importance of the free agency of characters. His characters are given the power of individual choice and we, the audience, get to see how it plays out. It seems that we are watching real people with flaws that cause them to not even know what they will decide until it is done.
This film depicts the struggle that comes from attempting to live the American dream. Morales, as a business owner, is in the throes of the dream. Of course the dream of owning the business includes success; a business that continues to grow, however, in NYC at the time corruption is rampant. Abel is hard-pressed to try to thrive in a city so corrupt without sacrificing his morals.
Although, Abel seems to be flourishing he can’t enjoy it. He is constantly working to do better. The business that he owns was purchased from his wife’s father, a mobster, and this association with dishonesty seems to hang over his head. Abel is concerned with right and wrong. He wants to conduct himself as honorably as possible.
I have not seen any of Chandor’s films this far, but I’m really drawn to this one. It comes across as personal and realistic. I like how much room the characters are given in a film like this. They have their own will, and therefore the capability to shock us with their choices. I am very curious as to which way Abel Morales will sway and that is why I will be seeing A Most Violent Year.