Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Most Violent Year (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Most Violent Year

The new film by auteur J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost ) is a case study in urban working class and gangster films, with quotes from De Palma, Coppola and John G. Alvidsen.

Indeed, the first few frames of "A Most Violent Year" showing Abel (Oscar Isaac) running down a derelict New York City street circa 1981 are reminiscent of "Rocky".

This is no accident.

We will soon see that Abel, an aspiring Standard Oil Company tycoon, will run for his life.

Though corruption is rife in his field, Abel is at pains to do business correctly and efficiently. There is just one catch that threatens to stop up his flow of polite decorum and, more seriously, his cash flow: his truck drivers are being beaten and thrown from their trucks.

Thousands of gallons of fuel are lost.

This torments the dapper and usually soft spoken Abel (who possesses the aura of a young Michael
Corleone in The Godfather) no end. Who is responsible and how best to handle this aggression? Matters are further complicated by the fact that his moll-like wife (Jessica Chastain) is materialistic and the couple has just purchased a palatial mansion at the city's edge. When an adorable young driver Julian (Elyes Gabel) is pummeled bloody within an inch of his life, Abel, a resolute pacifist, refuses an aggressive path. His wife begins to belittle and undermine his potency.

Preferring to talk civilly, Abel seeks the help of the D.A. Lawrence (David Oyelowo) who is smarmy and reticent, but also tells him that an investigation will begin focusing on his ethics.

Comedian Albert Brooks appears in a dramatic role and gives a fine portrayal of a fishy and needling lawyer.

Abel soon runs out of avenues to explore in the hopes of quelling the savagery that seethes around him, barely under the surface.

This film holds its own in the company of classic noir. A dinner scene and a barber scene speak in tribute to the work of Francis Ford Coppola. If this is not enough, the subway scenes recall "Dressed to Kill" and the seedy grime  depicted in "The French Connection."

Although the accents of past films are many and various, this work is eccentric and individual. We are active spectators in this urban jungle, where the soft yet hypnotically threatening protagonist Abel, whose punches are too often pulled, is equipped with a stare that can reach for miles and kill.

This is Oscar Isaac's most vivid role. In playing a natty, seemingly gentle man who murders with his cappuccino cream eyes but does little in action, Abel is right up there with the creations of Nicholas Ray or Camus's anti-hero Meursault.

This film makes a masterful trifecta, working as either a thriller, a period piece or a comment on film classics. But better still, as a  kind of financial noir, (a Chandor obsession).  

"A Most Violent Year" shows its fists in clear view and never fails to keep you guessing.

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