Review by Nathan Miller
All Images courtesy of http://amostviolentyear.com/
"The result is never in question. Just what path do you take to get there?" is the foundation of Abel Morales' (Oscar Isaac) beliefs and his story as he pushes to maintain humanity in the statistically most violent year in New York history. "A Most Violent Year" delivers a believable atmosphere of tension and violence without showing it. Contrary to the title, there is very little violence in this movie. As it is in real life, there are horrible situations happening everywhere around us yet are never seen by our naked eye. This was the approach taken by the filmmakers which helped fortify the themes that make up the film. "A Most Violent Year" relies on its storytelling and acute details to deliver a very real take on crime dramas. It delivers in every aspect of filmmaking, and it is easily the best crime drama of the year.
As New York City is suffering from an unrelenting crime spree, the Morales family and their energy business is falling apart from an attack on every front. Abel Morales' code of taking the righteous path in dirty work has left him vulnerable to those who choose to capitalize on it. Employees of his are being assaulted and his fuel trucks are being stolen from unknown assailants. As corruption is a hot topic for New York City, the district attorney, who is tasked with battling such acts in the energy business, is filing charges against Abel Morales. All of this is occurring during a crucial deal that will ensure his rise to power over more of New York City. With his savings emptied out, his enemies closing in, and his legacy in jeopardy can he continue to follow the beliefs he made as a working immigrant to do business a better way? Or will he succumb to the violence that has engulfed his city and break from the path he chooses to follow?
The sophistication of this film truly exemplifies the characters and their interactions with one another. You can feel the dislike and hatred between opposing forces as the intensity builds up during key moments of the film. Oscar Isaac concretes himself as a phenomenal actor as his portrayal of Abel Morales is surreal and brilliant. The delivery of his lines and progressive take on a crime boss solidify not only the beliefs of his character, but the beliefs of the entire film. It was gut wrenching to see him outright deny an employee advancement in the company after the employee was hospitalized from an assault, and it was engaging to see his own family waivering from his beliefs to the point that it reached a boiling point. Abel Morales never wanted to be a gangster but his wife, lawyer, and everyone around him is, so the threats against his family during a vulnerable moment of his life reveals their true nature. Jessica Chastain, as Anna Morales or Abel's wife, was the supporting character every great film needs. She was devil on Abel's shoulder as she questioned the beliefs of her husband and pushed herself to be the voice of violence in their family. Although she is strong and outspoken, she still respects and loves her husband which is an indication of their reliance on one another. Abel needs his wife to question him, and Anna needs her husband to be more than what she was accustomed to.
A resounding moment for the film was Abel's stance in the face of all his peers. The message he gave them spoke volumes for his character and reaffirmed the beliefs that have been apparent throughout the film. The filmmakers creatively delivered a violent setting through media and dialogue within the film. Reports of violence emitted from radio broadcasts which was hinted at from the district attorney and various other characters. In many ways, it was a pleasant surprise for a movie based around crime to show very little of it. That is what makes this film feel real and believable. Is the Morales family a part of an illegal operation? Yes, but the force to be reckoned with in this film is intimidation and power. People do not need to die in order to create an environment catered for crime. A big underlining plot within this movie was centered around the assaulted employee who wanted to be more. In many ways, he was the same as Abel but was unable to become anything in his life. The resentment and his questioning of "Why him and why not me?" really spoke to me. There are always those who will get more out of life than others, but why are there those who get nothing even with all their hard work? I cannot elaborate more without really giving up surprises in the story, but "A Most Violent Year" has been carefully crafted with layers of moral messages that leaves viewers in an ominous state.
If you entered the film hoping for debauchery and violence, you will be solely disappointed in this film. There is none, which for me is a good thing, but it can be a bad thing for those who like their crime dramas with sex and bloodshed. The only issue I had with this film was early on in the film, the Morales had an armed intruder on their lawn but was ran off by Abel. You do find out who the assailants are who are stealing his trucks, but they would not be involved in this home invasion. It could be a part of the threats they have recieving through rocks through their car windows, but the film never indicates who was responsible for that intrusion.
The writing, the setting, the camerawork, the acting, and the filmmaking in "A Most Violent Year" paints an invigorating picture of a period of time that continues to be remembered for less than what this film delivers. A moral code unheard of during that time period helps this film elaborate a life of crime as being more than just violence. When I finished watching the film, I commented with other movie goers about how believable Abel's rise to power was in it. I could see how his transparency with the district attorney and how he did business launched him beyond his competitors. As they lived in heavily guarded homes, Abel lived life like an open book with anyone willing to look could see. One of the last moments in the film when he is speaking with the district attorney, he says "I have always taken the path that is most right." At that moment, It clicked in the audience's head just like it did in the district attorney's head. The moral code of the film never faltered, and it never sacrificed its beliefs.