Friday, 30 January 2015

A Most Violent Year (15)

Regular readers of these opinionated burblings will know that if there's one thing we like around here, it's a JC Chandor film.

First on the radar was Margin Call, a low-budget yet brilliant look at the financial crisis from within one bank that realised it was all about to go boobs up.

Then we had All Is Lost. About one man and a boat. Simple yet stunning, giving us one of Robert Redford's finest ever performances.

Sadly, all people heard was 'its one man on a boat' and ignored it. Still, their loss.

Now, we have another offering from one of the best writer-directors operating today.

And not a boat in sight.

For A Most Violent Year, Chandor takes us back to New York in 1981 - the violent year of the film's title when crime stats hit an all time high.

The story centres on Abel (a stunningly measured performance from Oscar Isaac), an immigrant businessman simply trying to earn an honest buck.

OK, it's honesty on his terms, but it's still honesty to him - even if his wife Anna (the brilliant Jessica Chastain) is the daughter of a Brooklyn hoodlum.

The problem is, others aren't so honest, so Abe finds himself having to fight battles on many fronts - with the District Attorney, the two-bit crooks who keep robbing him, his business rivals who keep buying the stolen goods - just to try and stay honest.

And as with Chandor's previous work, nothing here screams and shouts. It's all mid-paced, and apparently quite gentle.

But don't be fooled.

The tension almost ambles up to you, gripping you before you are even aware of it - and several times you'll find yourself holding your breath or having shuffled forward in your seat without even noticing.

That's not to say it's slow or one-paced. There are thrills and jumps to be had.

And even though you see them 'jumps' coming, you still jump.

There's action too, just maybe not the action you're used to. A foot race across a Manhattan bridge and a car chase with an oil truck might not sound edge-of-the-seat, but you haven't seen Chandor do them yet.

The film clearly owes a debt to the mob films of the period, and Scorsese's influence can be felt, but that's not a bad thing.

Chandor knows his genres, and what you get is a "period" piece that is brilliantly written and directed, with well-drawn characters you can relate to and believe in.

From the main characters (and a nod here has to go to Albert Brooks as the family lawyer) down to the incidental ones, everyone feels like they've got depth and purpose.

Hell, even the secretary working with David Oyelowo's DA makes her mark.

Essentially, this film has the lot.

It's a great, gripping, well told story with dialogue that rings true.

It's subtly filmed, with nothing being telegraphed or showboated, meaning the story can play out naturally.

And to top it all, Chandor again gets top performances from every member of the cast, right down to the children.

Sadly, the film has come out at a time when all the Oscar big-hitters are flying about, and so it will probably make little impact (Cineworld's list of available screenings has already shrunk) - but don't let that put you off.

If you want a film that will engage and grip you for two hours, make you jump and have your heart racing with a story that is believable and enjoyable, then this is where to throw your money.

Chandor is only going to get better, so get in now so you can claim you were there at the start.

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