A Most Violent Year (2014)
I was late to this film, as usual. I watched it on Netflix, but it is widely available, including on DVD.
In my opinion, Oscar Isaac is one of the finest modern actors. He seems to me to have inherited the mantle of the younger Pacino and De Niro. Yet he doesn’t appear to be a ‘big league’ star, something that continues to surprise me. He takes the lead in this crime thriller, set in 1981, in New York. Perfectly cast as shady businessman, Abel Morales, who is not averse to bending the rules or going along with some corruption, in an effort to expand his oil delivery business.
After negotiating a deal to buy some riverside land containing an old oil depot, he must come up with a small fortune within a few days. It’s a gamble, but one that can make him very rich, by allowing him to dominate the oil delivery market in and around New York City. He is helped by his loyal and devoted wife, Anna, (Jessica Chastain) and his world-weary lawyer, Andrew. (Albert Brooks)
But things start badly. Someone is hijacking his trucks as they make deliveries in the city. Expensive oil is going missing, and Morales suspects his competitors are behind the thefts. He is also being hounded by an ambitious District Attorney (David Oyelowo) who is threatening him with charges of fraud, and tax evasion. Life is far from easy for Abel, and he has just moved into a new luxury house too.
Ably supported by his wife, Morales determines to find out what is going on. One by one, he investigates the dealings of his competitors, and has a lucky break when he is able to stop one of his trucks being hijacked. With less than three days to complete the biggest deal of his life, he throws everything into solving the problem of coming up with the money needed.
Despite not relying on set-piece action, this film manages to keep a tension and edginess throughout. Chastain doesn’t have too much to do as the wife, but when she is involved, she acts with her usual accomplished style. A remarkably restrained Albert Brooks impresses as the lawyer close to the edge of legality, and smaller parts are all very convincing, from a believable cast.
But yet again, this is Isaac’s film. He dominates it from start to finish, and I found myself watching his every expression and nuance throughout. This is an intelligent film, with a great script, and one that never relies on flashy scenes or shoot-outs to drive the plot.
This is what good crime thrillers should be like.