2014 may well be remembered as the year that the spirit of 1970s suspense cinema returned to Hollywood. In recent months Nightcrawler, Whiplash and The Drop have directly evoked this era and A Most Violent Year, director J.C Chandor’s third feature, follows suit recalling the thrillers of Sydney Lumet and William Friedkin whilst effortlessly telling a complex, dark story.
Chandor has managed to carve himself a niche as a modern auteur with his excellent first two features – financial thriller, Margin Call and maritime survival tale, All Is Lost – both have little in common with each other or with this one. A Most Violent Year follows heating oil entrepreneur Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) as violence, corruption and circling police threaten to destroy his life’s work.
The titular year, 1981 provides a backdrop of ever-present urban decay. This is a stagnant New York of graffiti-strewn subways and rusty metal, a far cry from the tourist brochure view of the city taken by most film-makers. To further this sense of stark realism, the movie is shot in a muted colour pallet of browns and greys that, whilst frequently beautiful, reflects the undercurrent of cold desperation that runs through the film.
This is especially true of Isaac as Morales who dominates the film as a man trying to do what he believes to be right as his world begins to collapse. His lack of an Oscar nomination is a crime. The supporting cast too is universally strong with newcomer Elyes Gabel providing a vulnerable turn as a young delivery driver in awe of Morales.
What Chandor’s next project will be is anyone’s guess but after A Most Violent Year, we can rest assured that one of Hollywood’s most promising new directors is showing no signs of peaking.
Images: FilmNation Entertainment