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Title: A Most Violent Year

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :3.5stars:

HTS Overall Score:77

J.C. Chandor is making a name for himself in the movie world. He hasn’t been labeled just yet due to only making a small handful of films, but his style and slow moving emphasis on inaction, rather than action, garners him a very unique place at the round table. His first entry with “Margin Call” kind of slid under the radar, but was one of the best analysis on the stock market crash that I had seen in film form. The cast was stellar and he drew everything he could out of them. “All is Lost” utilized his emphasis on lack of dialog and was more of a love story between Robert Redford’s character and the ocean more than anything. Now Chandor takes on the crime drama and crafts a tale that is ploddingly slow, yet inexorably intriguing at the same time. His telltale use of INACTION, rather than action, is present as well as the haunting feeling of dread and terror that he so artfully used in “All is Lost”. The slow burning nature of the movie is normally a downside to a movie, but Chandor somehow turns the slowness around as a positive, adding to the tension and nervousness of the main character as things crawl to their almost inevitable conclusion.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is an honest man, it seems, in a world where that is a foreign concept. Set in 1982, Abel is an immigrant who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps and created an oil/fuel empire that is on the verge of collapse. He’s trying to finance a buy that will bring him out of the mid-range oil merchants and into the realm of the big boys, and I mean REALLY big boys. Only problem is that he’s got a lot of things against him at the moment. It seems that he’s getting trucks hijacked every other week, losing thousands and thousands of gallons of fuel to these thieves, and not only that he’s under investigation for fraud and everything else associated with the fuel industry. Bucking the odds, though, Abel and his wife Anna (Jessic Chastain) are forging ahead, only to be upset just as quickly as they started. Abel’s bank backs out of the deal after he has put a 40% down payment on the big purchase, literally stripping his active cash down to zero and leaving him holding the bag. Next one of his workers ends up in a gunfight in New York against the hijackers, giving the police an even bigger target to paint on his back and time is running out for him to secure the loan.

As with most of Chandor’s films, the actual EVENTS of the movie really aren’t important. Sure we care about Abel and his crisis, as he’s a good man with a good head on his shoulders, but it’s the emotions and the character flaws/plusses that really make the movie interesting. Abel is a good man, probably too good of a man for a business largely dominated by gangsters, and his wife is kind of the antithesis. A gangster’s daughter, she is in control of the books and has ice cold water flowing through her veins. Abel’s lawyer (played by Albert Brooks) is very much a gangster’s lawyer and makes every effort to let Abel know what he should be doing. Having the cops breathing down the necks of the fuel tycoon along with his product being stolen creates a sort of wild tension that you can cut with a knife. The terror in the movie isn’t from the actual violence, as the movie itself shies away from explicit violence expect for a few places, but instead comes the ominous dread that everything could be swept away from Abel in a heartbeat. The slow burning nature of the film actually adds to this tension as the viewer is chewing their bottom lip waiting for the hammer to fall, looking above their head and over their shoulder worried what is next to sideswipe Abel. This creeping pace and eerie tension makes the effective where it should have been boring. For a 2 hour and 5 minute film at this pace you would expect to be checking your watch, but I think an hour went by before I actually checked at the clock and felt like maybe half an hour had gone buy.

What’s interesting is watching Abel actually turn out to be a good guy. Usually with crime dramas we’re used to the wealthy business man to be revealed as a crook and watch him get his just desserts (usually at gunpoint) in the final moments of the film. Instead we see that Abel is struggling his very hardest to do what is right in a business that is dominated by wrong. Even when he’s faced with utter subjugation by every direction his integrity and personal honor dominate every aspect of his life. Now this isn’t played up in a cheesy way at all, with our hero shining ultra clean in the sunlight like Superman, but it plays out matter of factly, with us actually empathizing, but not really rooting for Abel and Anna. We watch their struggles and are fully engrossed, even able to relate to them, but somehow can still view them as third party businessmen.


Rated R for language and some violence

Video :4stars:
“A Most Violent Year” comes to Blu-ray with a rather interesting transfer. It’s not a bad transfer, but a very unique one, as director J.C. Chandor has color graded the movie with a VERY heavy yellow overtone, giving the movie an almost syrupy look to it. The yellow color tones give the skin colors a bit of a sickly push and the darky, murky scenes of the movie tend to look a bit washed out as a result. There are a few scenes where the color grading was pulled back and the sharpness and black levels increased dramatically, so it most definitely is intentional. The Arri Alexa digital cameras still give a plentiful amount of detail among the ice cold looking transfer and the clarity is top notch. I noticed some intermittent banding during dark sequences, most notably in the window during the deer accident scene, and a few other murky sequences. Overall the disc looks quite good, considering the heavy color grading, and you get to see some nice moments of detail amidst the flat looking image. Artifacting is minimal and the disc itself is give a nice healthy bitrate in the mid 30s.

Audio :4stars:
Lionsgate’s 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is much like the film itself. It’s a slow burn that coasts along at a steady pace until it explodes with action for a split second before calming down once again. The dialog heavy track lives in the shadows, mixing hushed dialog with a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Sometimes the dialog can get a bit TOO hushed, but those moments are fleeting and soon smooth out to clean and clear stretches. The dynamic range of the movies is ENORMOUS as the track just coasts along with a slow and steady pace and then BAM! You’re almost thrown out of your chair with explosive energy. The scene where Abel and Anna run over the dear near had me calling the doctor with complaints of tingling in my right arm if you know what I mean. The surrounds don’t get an enormous amount of use, but they do transport some decent ambient noises of New York as well as the occasional gunshot. LFE is mild, but comes into play when needed, and the clarity of the whole track is superb.

Extras :3.5stars:
• Audio Commentary with Writer-Director J.C. Chandor and Producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb
• Behind the Violence
• A Conversation with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac
• We Can Cure Violence
• The Contagious Nature of Violence: The Origins of A Most Violent Year
• Deleted Scenes
• Theatrical Trailer
• Teaser Trailer
• Inner City Crew

Overall: :4stars:

“A Most Violent Year” is less a violent film, but more a commentary on violent times. 1981 was a historically violent year, with crimes being at an all-time high in New York City, and the movie capitalizes on the aura of crime and evil that happened in that time period, rather than capitalizing on bloodshed. Chandor weaves a tale that is both mesmerizing and incredibly slow at the same time, where you care about the emotions and the texture of the tale, even if the actual events themselves are interchangeable with a million other gangster movies. Lionsgate has given us a very solid presentation on both the audio and video, and the extras are actually quite substantial, making this a definite recommendation for a watch. Especially if you’re into crime dramas.

Additional Information:

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Written by: J.C. Chandor
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, German
Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Runtime: 125 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 7th 2015

Buy A Most Violent Year On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Check it Out

More about Mike

1,546 Posts
Thanks for the review, Mike. Despite loving Jessica Chastain and really enjoying Oscar Isaac as actors, I just had little interest in watching this one... Now your review solidified my choice. Maybe I'll get around to renting it sometime in the future, but there are just too many other great films to watch at this moment.
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