The line between right and wrong can be blurred from time to time. Morality can be questioned by seemingly good people and this in turn may produce some rather nasty results. The new dramatic thriller A Most Violent Year explores this paradox in adequate detail and while the direction and acting are both top notch, the film itself suffers from a severe case of the lulls. The action is limited and many of the scenes meander, establishing a tone that is neither tense nor very interesting. Talented lead actor Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Drive) and the beautiful Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Help) do provide excellent performances but sadly, even their brilliance can’t save this boring and rather pointless film.
Meet Abel Morales (Isaac), a Latino immigrant businessman who runs an honest heating oil company in New York City. He is tempted by colleagues and competitors to turn to the dark side and embrace corruption and violence. Even his sexy wife Anna (Chastain) flirts with the idea of crime since she is the daughter of a well-known gangster. The married couple also work hard to shield their children from the moral decay which surrounds them. Abel is dedicated to a life of purity in an impure time. The setting of the film is New York City circa 1981, recorded as the most violent year in the city’s history. Murder and corruption run rampant and Abel is right in the middle of it all. Will he turn to that dark side or will he power through and embrace the light?
Director J.C. Chandor (All is Lost, Margin Call) is notorious for presenting films and stories that have so much potential but sadly ultimately founder. A Most Violent Year is another uneventful entry in the uninspired director’s filmography and with so much promise, it is frustrating to say that this film really doesn’t have much going for it. The only saving graces are the performances which are pulled off very strongly by the electric Isaac, the magnetic Chastain, and the underused David Oyelowo (Selma, Lee Daniels’ The Butler). Each of these actors demonstrates supreme talent and they do their very best to elevate the film but sadly even they can’t bring this movie up from the depths of mediocrity. Even comedy legend-turned supporting dramatic actor Albert Brooks gives a sturdy performance but sadly it’s a case of too little too late.
It’s a real shame that A Most Violent Year didn’t exceed, let alone, meet my expectations. Honestly, going into this film, one might expect some Scarface-style action or at least some gripping moments of tension. These elements are completely absent here and while the setting and cinematography by Bradford Young (Selma, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) are stellar, the rest of the film is sadly not. Only diehard fans of Isaac and Chastain should check this big budget snooze fest because other that these attractive leads, there really isn’t a lot of meat on these bones. Crime dramas are fertile ground for riveting storytelling but unfortunately, the only crime this film is guilty of is putting one to sleep.