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A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

SYNOPSIS: In New York City 1981, ambitious immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city's history. Simmering rivalries and unprovoked attacks threaten his business and private worlds and -- above all -- his own unwavering belief in the righteousness of his path.

Review by Louise Keller:
The juxtaposition of disparate moral codes generates the spice in this smouldering crime thriller in which Oscar Isaac's honourable businessman Abel Morales is intent on choosing 'the path most right' within a world of gangsters. Following cutthroat business dealings in Margin Call (2011) and the merciless ocean in All is Lost (2013), J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year delves into big business where the stakes are as high and the ethics are low. It's a stunning film whose adept screenplay succinctly describes both characters and elements as it creates a powerful dramatic arc with considerable rewards.

It is winter 1981 in New York City and Abel Morales is in the oil business, transporting large quantities of oil for heating. 'I like to own the things I use,' Morales tells Joseph (Jerry Adler), as he puts all his cash on the line by way of a hefty deposit on a large oil storage facility by the water. The corruption and thuggery that ensues is the main focus of the film, as Morales tries desperately to fulfill his contract by delivering the rest of the finance within the required 30 days.

Isaac is superb as the immaculately dressed businessman who is afraid of failure above all else. Not a hair is out of place; his clothes are stylish and expensive. Reminiscent of The Godfather's Michael Corleone, there is something intrinsically decent about Morales - in the way he treats his employees and how he deals with business, especially when things go wrong. The scene in which his car runs into a deer on the snowy road late at night is a revelation, in that we see his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) in a new light - as her gangster father's daughter.

As repeated hijacking and thefts of huge quantities of oil occur, Morales tries to discover which of his competitors is trying to ruin him. David Oyelowo plays the assistant DA, who is investigating Morales, while Elyes Gabel is Julian, a vulnerable immigrant employee who gets caught up in the crossfire. Especially potent are Morales' interactions - with his competitors, employees and above all, with his wife (Jessica Chastain), whose clash of ethics explodes like a powder keg. Thrilling cinema.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
By the time A Most Violent Year opens in Australia on February 26, 2015, it will seem old news that it won the 2014 Best Film, the Best Actor (Oscar Isaac) and Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain) Awards of the National Board of Review (NBR), but it's fresh news as I write this, shortly after the screening in Sydney for film critics in early December. That's a lot for a film to live up to, generating expectations that need to be met, but it J. C. Chandor's third feature is full of cinematic drama, wonder, observation and style.

It is a crime thriller, but rises above its genre; it is a character study but it creates a mythic persona; and it is a morality tale but it presents as an analysis of human nature's self contradictory impulses. And it does all this as well as carry us along on a thought provoking tidal wave of intelligent, inspiring writing and directing.

Latino migrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a businessman who believes in doing everything 'the most right way', which is not to say he is afraid to make decisions. The opposite; he wants to achieve the American dream of success, and to be able to do so morally. His name dictates his nature. If that sounds na•ve and simplistic, Chandor ensures it doesn't play that way.

In a deeper sense, this is Chandor exploring the contemporary American condition: can Americans succeed purely on good sense and good luck, can Americans eschew violence and corruption? He doesn't suggest a definitive answer, but the question is enough. As Annie Schulhof, NBR President remarked: "J.C. Chandor has given us a new and provocative perspective on the American Dream."

David Oyelowo is terrific as Lawrence the DA, Alessandro Nivola makes a creepily friendly competitor, Peter Forrente; Elyes Gabel is heartbreaking as Julian the truck driver whose beating triggers a dramatic cascade of events and Albert Brooks is marvellous as he underplays Andrew Walsh, Abel's consigliore. Great to see Catalina Sandino Moreno in top form in an important cameo as Julian's sister.

Written and directed with admirable restraint and careful attention to cinematic tools - notably the notion that less often means more - A Most Violent Year grips us from the start and despite its title, contains relatively little actual physical violence, while psychological, emotional and intellectual confrontations abound.

Those Awards are justified and the film provides audiences the kind of heroic journey that doesn't play down to us or pander to the lowest common denominator.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (MA15+)
(US, 2014)

CAST: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel, Catelina Sandino Moreno, Peter Gerety, Christopher Abbott, Ashley Williams

PRODUCER: Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb

DIRECTOR: J. C. Chandor

SCRIPT: J. C. Chandor

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bradford Young

EDITOR: Ron Patane

MUSIC: Alex Ebert

PRODUCTION DESIGN: John P. Goldsmith

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 26, 2015







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