Sunday, April 5, 2015

Video review: "A Most Violent Year"

Young writer/director J.C. Chandor made the wonderful but little-seen “Margin Call” in 2011, then followed it up with the virtually wordless “All Is Lost” starring Robert Redford, earning a well-deserved Oscar nomination for screenplay in the process.

After such a dazzling career start, I was expecting great things out of his third feature film, “A Most Violent Year.” But while most other critics found this 1980s crime-and-punishment drama worthy, I was put off by its circuitous plotting and unrealized themes.

Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales, owner of a heating oil business serving the New York City area. It’s an industry rife with corruption, grudges, protection money and outright thievery, and nobody keeps their hands entirely clean – including Abel. He’s about to buy a fuel terminal that will give him a huge leg up, but challenges abound.

His trucks are being routinely hijacked and the oil stolen. Meanwhile, the local district attorney (David Oyelowo) is breathing down his neck with pending charges, which causes the financing for his big deal to teeter. And his Lady MacBeth-ish wife (Jessica Chastain), the daughter of an infamous mobster, chastises Abel for refusing to fight fire with fire.

It’s a whole lot of intriguing, disparate elements that never really solidify into a coherent whole. Abel is presented as reluctant to use violence to get what he wants, but as he is the only person in his realm who thinks this way, it makes him seem hopelessly naïve and impotent. The wife character, meanwhile, feels like an amalgam of other tough molls we’ve seen in film noir pictures over the years.

Chandor avoided the “sophomore slump” that often affects promising filmmakers on their second outing. But given the heights of his fledgling career, his third effort registers as a major disappointment.

“A Most Violent Year” is being released with solid video extras, starting with a feature-length commentary track by Chandor and two of producers. There are also three making-of featurettes focusing on production, the original concept for the film and a conversation with Isaac and Chastain. Plus, deleted scenes and outtakes.



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