Why did A Most Violent Year fly off theater screens and flutter onto TV screens?
Were sanguivorous fans disillusioned by the misleading title? The misguided ads? The deceptive trailers?
As police records confirm, 1981 was New York's most violent year, but this gangster flic is not the city's bloodiest movie. Writer/Director J.C. Chandor's kept chases and shootouts under commonsensical control.
It's the beauty of the shots and the uncanny casting that coalesce into a gratifying 125 minutes. Chandor explores the grip, grift and graft in the barrio battles over the control of NYC heating-petrol. While not an inherently riveting setting (the house-to-house peddling and transporting of home fuel), the multiple creative talents that ignite the story hook you at hello...
...or hola. Oscar Isaac plays Columbian immigrant Abel Morales, a company man burnishing his American dream with dollar bills. He's rushing to buy an industrial waterfront property to facilitate his dominance and control over the city's sale and distribution of the oil before his competitors and the Brooklyn legal system grease his descent.
Isaac mesmerizes (as he always does) with his elegance, an engaging Latino cool and a photogenic presence. (His tresses should have been listed separately in the starring credits.) Inside that magnificent halo of hair, the man is weighing wrong versus right, gun powder versus the power of mediation, and get-down-and-dirty versus get-up-and-go-clean.
Isaac was outstanding in the Cohen brother's Inside Llewyn Davis, but in his newest, Ex Machina, (2015) he again flash floods the screen with his Violent Year's unquenchable charisma.
Jessica Chastain, his Brooklyn wife Anna, with a mobster pedigree, mirrors Oscar's celluloid charms and satisfies cinematographer Bradford Young's seductive camera.
The actors' convincing chemistry is due, in part, to their longtime friendship, (she proposed Isaac's casting), but each also enriches the other's unique screen skills. Together they exude the inner elusive lodestone that makes an enduring screen couple.
David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King in Selma) appears as the determined District Attorney Andrew Lawrence who ambushes Abel's ambition and Elyes Gabel, as the vulnerable tank truck driver Julian, who is actually ambushed.
The welcome return of the sardonic actor/writer/director Albert Brooks as adviser/lawyer Andrew Walsh, embellishes the star-studded cast.
Young's (also of Selma) inventive camerawork deserves major kudos for the film's flair. Bare bold surrounding locations and sets by Production Designer (and former architect) John P. Goldsmith and dramatic lighting turn camera shots into moving art. (Pun intended.) For the visually inclined, the screen is a serious serial eye magnet.
In his third outing as a writer/director, Chandor's finest contribution, and there are many, may be the assemblage of great talent. But a niggling nagging question hovers behind the drama: Has Chandor made a Hispanic Godfather wanna-be?
As the film winds down, our fears gear up: so little time and so many loose ends. Will an abrupt denouement rip the winds from the sails of the story?
Yes and no. Various threads of the plot were conveniently tied up - albeit into tangled knots - as if available for future unraveling. Is a sequel or a series on someone's bucket list? For the movie's sake, less hasty resolutions would have been welcome here.
Still I recommend this Blu-ray. Even if you saw the theatrical version of A Most Violent Year, I endorse a re-viewing on a TV like Samsung's 65" HU8550 UHD TV in your home where you can handpick folks who will relish Chandor and Young's artistry and where the encircling walls cradle the intimacy of sharing a TV - an experience not begot in a mall multiplex.
(This is not ostentatious propaganda for big screen TVs or a campaign against theaters - I love both venues for different reasons - but an honest promo for the camaraderie and conviviality of home viewing this flic. )
For an Extras geek, the Special Features can gratify the hankering to explore the making of the film and to expand the story behind the makers.
Chandor's Margin Call earned him a 2012 Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and his allegorical All Is Lost lured Robert Redford back in front of the camera for an almost-mute solo performance as a shipwreck survivor. Chandor touches on a few of his accomplishments, as do Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac.
If Chastain and Isaac were less modest, you might have heard more about their stellar filmographies, kudos and Academy acclaim, but their performances will have to suffice as the evidence. Meanwhile the two leads reminisce about their converging lives at Julliard where they both studied and launched their careers.
Additional interviews include Production Designer Goldsmith and Costume Designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone, who festooned Chastain in 80's Armani couture.
The deleted scenes mostly feature the Morales kids. While interesting as a peripheral family story, they were wisely omitted from the already two hour film.
A half-hearted effort to promote the end of violence (any kind, anywhere) called "We Can Cure the Violence" looked like some corporate compromise to mention the possibility of peace (without using the word), with an insinuated message "now you can do the research and you can galvanize the movement. Good Luck."
Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Peter Gerety