A Most Violent Year stars Inside Llewyn Davis‘ Oscar Isaac as Abel Morales, who is a good man, in principle, running a business to supply oil. He’s buying a new facility which will allow him to bring in fuel via the river, so he can buy from any supplier worldwide, and it’s also a place which will allow him to store over ten million gallons of fuel, so he can buy when the price is low and sell when it’s high.
Unfortunately, it’s New York City in 1981 and his tanker drivers are being held up, beaten half to death and then are liberated from their vehicles, meaning they’ll have to be tooled up if they’re to stand a chance. This is not an ideal situation when Abel is about to be facing charges for cutting corners in the most dodgy aspects of their business. So it’s no surprise when our leading man’s daughter finds a loaded gun left behind the bush at the front of their new house, dropped by a man who Abel tries to tell wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) was just a kid wanting to steal their TV, yet she knows it was a hired goon.
In a world where everyone’s out to screw over everyone else, A Most Violent Year plays out like a sub-Goodfellas-style film where the sumptuous locations are dressed in the look of the period, resulting in everything appearing very clean and arty, plus a wonderful soundtrack that makes you feel at times like you’re watching the cut-scenes in a new game set between Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The acting is far better but the script is left wanting. In the extras, Selma‘s David Oyelowo tells of how he read the script and the project was just a ‘no-brainer’ for him wanting to be involved. Really? It makes for a reasonable two hours, but it’s often plodding and ponderous and produces an ending that made me feel, “Is that it??”
In the two-hour running time, it never outstays its welcome, but it never wows you, either. There’s a first-rate cast on hand, with occasional flashes of genius delivered by Isaac and Chastain when they’re imagining they’re in a Scorsese movie, and Albert Brooks is almost unrecognisable as an old friend and associate of Abel, yet they’re hampered by a so-so script. And if the name Elyes Gabel – as tanker driver Julian – rings a bell, he’s currently appearing on cinema screens in Spooks: The Greater Good as nutjob terrorist Qasim.
Oh, and as I type this, oil prices are currently dropping, yet the cost of a litre at my local Tesco has just gone up!
One strange thing with the subtitles, just at the hour mark, when one character says to another “Better run, cunt”, yet the subtitles are self-censored! They say, “Better run, c***!” Who at Icon Entertainment sanctioned that?!
The film is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition and it looks absolutely stunning, the picture being filtered to evoke a darker period. Of course, back in the early ’80s, the sun still shone as brightly as it does now, but all films set in the recent past have to look just a bit different to the present day, don’tcha know.
The sound is in DTS HD 5.1 and while it’s not a special FX film, it has a wonderful aforementioned score, from Alex Ebert which is the aural highlight.
The extras are as follows:
- Featurettes: Eight of them here, but like J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, the majority of them are very short – so much so that they’re more of an afterthought, and whatever the title, they’re just a mixture of clips with inconsequential chat from various cast and crew members – The Director (2:09), The Cast (3:25), American Dream (2:36), Behind The Lens (2:19), Costuming an Era (3:31) and The Contagious Nature of Violence: The Origins of A Most Violent Year (3:09), which is subtitled ‘A conversation with J.C. Chandor and Gary Slutkin (founder and executive director, Cure Violence)’.
The only proper two, and which should’ve been set aside from the others so as to differentiate, are firstly, Behind the Violence (43:57). It follows a similar path to the others but goes into far more detail, as you’d expect from the length. In fact, it’d be best if they amalgamated this with the first five short ones into just one ‘making of’. It’s also split into four chapters.
The other is Conversations with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac (12:51). The pair went to acting school together, so they’ve known each other a very long time.
- Deleted Scenes (7:44): Five of them here. None of them particularly need to go back into the film, but the fourth one, Spoiled Little Brat, shows Oscar Isaac firing on all cylinders in ‘Goodfellas’-style mode, so that’d be okay to go back in.
- Trailers: A Theatrical trailer (2:07), UK teaser trailer (1:17), and an International Trailer (2:18), all in the theatrical 2.35:1 widescreen ratio.
- Gallery (2:07): A fair number of images set to a short, looped piece of the theme.
- Audio commentary: with director J.C. Chandor and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb.
There are subtitles in English only, the number of chapters is a low and perfunctory 12, while the menu has the incidental music set to some clips from the film.
Sadly, Icon have included unrelated trailers BEFORE the main menu. I wish they wouldn’t do that. It just takes me back to the age-old days of rental video.
Running time: 125 minutes
Studio: Icon Entertainment
Released: May 18th 2015
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: English, plus some dialogue in Spanish
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Master Scope)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: J.C. Chandor
Producers: J.C. Chandor, Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb
Screenplay: J.C. Chandor
Music: Alex Ebert
Abel Morales: Oscar Isaac
Anna Morales: Jessica Chastain
Julian: Elyes Gabel
Andrew Walsh: Albert Brooks
D.A. Lawrence: David Oyelowo
Joseph Mendelsohn: Jerry Adler
Moishe Mendelsohn: Quinn Meyers
Deputy Lange: Ashley Williams
Arnold Kline: Glenn Fleshler
Annie Morales: Daisy Tahan
Elizabeth Morales: Taylor Richardson
Catherine Morales: Giselle Eisenberg
Burglar: Phillip Chi
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.