A crime drama set in New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically one of the most violent years in the city's history, and centered on the lives of an immigrant and his family trying to expand their business and capitalize on opportunities as the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built. Written by
When the young salesman goes out his first day, there's a shot of a residential street. Several houses have modern satellite dishes attached to their roofs (like dish or DirecTV). There were no home satellite dishes in 1981. See more »
When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can't do.
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In 1981, an immigrant oilman struggles to improve his fortune and protect his family during the most dangerous year in New York City's history. A Most Violent Year is a strong, character-driven drama that's lifted infinitely by terrific lead performances by Oscar Isaacs and Jessica Chastain, inflating what could have been a tiresome, trite look at one man versus the world in an unkind city.
Abel Morales (Isaac) runs Standard Oil, and he has his eyes on some prime waterfront real estate. With this land, he'll be able to fill his trucks from directly from the oil barges on the river, rather than have the oil transported from boat to someone else's trucks and then to his warehouses. And by saving money there, he'll be able to buy a little more oil than he normally would, keep it on the premises, and then sell it to customers or competitors when demand rises. He makes a deal for the land with a sizable down payment and the stipulation that the balance be tendered within 30 days - no extensions allowed. This, of course, is before Abel's company comes under investigation by an intrepid detective (David Oyelowo), his trucks get highjacked and the oil stolen, and his backers start to, well, back away.
But Abel is no wilting flower, whether he's dealing with the fuzz or the other oilmen in the city. He has his convictions, and damned if he's going to give them up to appease anyone. Which, as you might suspect, makes things a little more difficult. His wife Anna (Chastain), who can match Abel in sheer willpower, is also fiercely protective of her husband, her business (she's the bookkeeper), and her family. Sort of a two-pronged attack. Abel's charm and style nets him both friends and enemies, but this isn't yet another mobster movie by any means. In fact, the only direct evidence of organized crime in the movie centers around Abel's competition - men who would do anything to maintain and/or increase their share of the lucrative oil business in the city.
Both Isaacs (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Chastain (Interstellar) deliver powerful performances that manage to be both relatable and fascinating. Theirs is not a one-sided relationship. Abel is not some power-mad, bombastic husband who treats the wife and kids as either baggage or items to be used for fun and profit. Anna is not some melodramatic, over-spirited harpy who resents her husband's work obsession. They work together even when they disagree. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention an almost unrecognizable Albert Brooks, the company's astute and slightly amoral lawyer. Brooks, in what appears to be a Karl Malden wig, is a real treat.
A Most Violent Year carries a strong message, and that message is this: don't count the little guy out, particularly when he (and his spouse) is whip-smart, unafraid to take chances, and endlessly resourceful. High praise indeed for director J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost) and his talented cast.
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