The pacing of this crime drama is superb, and gentle acceleration of violence is the driving force behind its lead performances. Both Isaac and Jessica Chastain, who plays Abel’s wife Anna, are magnificent from start to finish and have a very dynamic relationship which constantly changes – especially towards the films climax.
Early-1980s New York, in what is dubbed “the most violent year in the city’s history”, is captured through its costume and production design – from the remarkable outfits worn by its leads and the choice of their houses and their businesses that create a remarkable feel and resemblance to that era. Due to this, similarities to Goodfellas and The Godfather are there and clearly influence JC Chandor’s use of setting and A Most Violent Year’s framing of shots. Having loved Chandor’s previous works of Margin Call and All Is Lost, the director has now expertly crafted films in three different genres and is someone to look out for in the future. The way he can bring out a sublime performance from Isaac and something completely different to that of his wryly dry performance from Inside Llewyn Davis is clearly testament to the director’s ability. The drab colour palette used for the film is a major aspect in what gives the film its 80’s characteristic and also compliments the subtle performances from all of its actors. The inclusion of the iconic New York skyline is also drabbed in this colour fade and it help creates what the film’s title represents.
Once the film gets going in its third act, there is one particularly great scene in an empty restaurant between Morales and his competitors, where he kindly tells them to stop with their constant attacks on his business. From this point the film amps up the change in mood and character, as shown by Isaac to be a good man in his primitive nature but at the same time going to great lengths to protect his family and his future. The story is very much one man’s descent into immoral decisions he’s tried to steer clear of, but knows eventually he’ll have to join in on. Isaac’s intensity reaches peak levels that are captivating and nuanced. A tracking sequence showing him chase after a criminal who has just robbed one of his trucks is fascinating and keeps you gripped to the edge of your seat even without music to affect your emotions.
On the Blu-ray edition of the film, there is a great commentary from J.C. Chandor, Neal Dobson and Anna Gerb; along with featurettes ranging from cast interviews, production designers, costume designers, a history of the city and much, much more. Plenty of interviews and featurettes about the making of the film as well as deleted scenes, trailers of upcoming films and a gallery of stills from the well-known sequences in the film.
Review by Simon Childs
[SRA value=”4″ type=”YN”]
A Most Violent Year is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now.