I literally don’t know how the movie ‘A Most Violent Year’ got made. This thing is a mobster movie without mobsters. It’s a violent movie sans all recognizable violence. This is movie is literally the most enormous Anti-Movie I have ever seen. It’s American Psycho without the serial killer. It’s Goodfellas minus every single fella. I cannot believe that Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac read this script and thought – this, THIS, is the movie I was looking for. I mean, it couldn’t have been the writer and director, J.C. Chandor, that just made these two actors dive in head first. What has Chandor even done? I wasn’t even familiar, I had to look him up. And apparently Margin Call and All is Lost are on his resume. Uh, OK. So that wasn’t it. Then how the heck did A Most Violent Year get made?
A better question to ask is, how the heck was this movie so good – especially seeing as though literally nothing happened?
Have you seen it? What did you think of it? Oh, you haven’t even ever heard of it? Well, let me introduce you! I love making romantic theatrical matches. I shouldn’t be consider a movie review site as I should be thought of as a movie dating site. (And look at that, moviedatingsite.com is available?!? WAHT!?! And so is moviedatingmatch.com as well! I’m buying them both. (No, I’m not really. I may be a little bit delusional, but I don’t need to be admitted.))
The way I found out about the film was just by perusing A24’s movies page – their track record of independent films is just impeccable. And whenever I slowed over a movie title I didn’t know, I checked it out over on IMDb and Rotten. (Which, as a side note/list, here are a few more moves from that page that I haven’t reviewed here at THiNC. Woman Walks Ahead, The Souvenir, Good Time, The Vanishing of Sidney Hall. And here is just a cursory list of just a few movies I’ve reviewed from A24 – Backstabbing for Beginners, First Reformed, Hole in the Ground, High Life, Hereditary, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, It Comes at Night.) So I knew that with Jessica and Oscar (yes, we go way back) and with A24’s backing, it was going to be great ride. (Or should I say it’d be a romantic match?)
A Most Violent Year Deeper Dive
But what the heck did I just watch? If you are confused by the movie, (especially if you just spent a hundred minutes of your life watching a movie where nothing happens on my recommendation) and are still wondering what exactly just happened, we (or I) can help you with that.
The movie is actually a complex swirl of contrails and currents of low pressure systems colliding and slowly subsuming or consuming one another alternately. (I have literally no idea what that sentence even means. If we have a translator in the house, we could all use the help here with this one.) But basically, the movie starts out in 1981 New York. Abel Morales (my buddy Oscar), happens to be the owner of a small heating oil company. The problem? His trucks keep getting hijacked. And at the opening of the film, during one of these hijackings, Julian, is severely beaten and his truck is taken. Abel’s wife Anna (Jessica), tries to convince Abel to fight violence with violence. To respond. But he refuses – even though I know for a fact I would have been cowed into violence by Anna even if I were a priest. There’s no way I don’t just start shooting random people on the street. So, kudos to Abel. I think.
At the same time, the Assistant District Attorney (David Oyelowo) is nearly certain that Abel and Anna are guilty of price fixing, tax evasion as well as numerous other illegalities. So the heat is coming. And in an attempt to protect himself from his competitors, Abel decides he needs to purchase a fuel oil terminal on the East River. This storage facility will allow Abel to import and store fuel directly from barges off the river. This will drive prices lower, and will also allow them to purchase and store fuel purchased at low prices and sell it when the prices are high. So, as far as the whole, Buy Low, Sell High, business goes, it will be a boon to his business. But when he signs the terms of a down payment of 40% with 30 days to close on the property…and therein lies the crux of the movie. The turmoil is a loan. See what I’m saying there? It’s a movie about the terms and repayment of a debt. Got it? See the deeper meaning there? … Yeah, neither do I.
Regardless, as the loan terms come due, there is stress on all sides. An intruder with a gun is lurking on the property of their new home. Trucks continue getting stolen. But when he asks all his competitors to come to a meeting (which reminded me of that scene in A Dark Knight when the Joker makes a pencil disappear in that guy’s face, no?) he tells them all to “Stop.” To stop attacking his business. To stop stealing his trucks, and his oil. But they all swear that it wasn’t any of them. Which, actually, turns out to be true, right? Some random guys are stealing Abel’s oil – but it is one of these guys that is buying it. About this time, the head of the Teamsters tells Abel to arm his drivers…but Abel forcefully declines to do so, because it wouldn’t be right.
But soon after Julian is back on the road again, after having been rehabilitated, and the very first day he’s attacked again. But this time, he has a gun. And after firing 4 shots, he runs for it. This changes the fulcrum of the entire movie because of the spotlight that it placed on Abel with the DA, and also with his competitors. Even worse, his 30-day financing is all falling through because of his chaos with the police, and their suspicions about the illegal things that they believe are happening at Abel’s House o’ Oil.
This is where things get tense. Are you paying attention? Because you need to have an accounting degree to track this last bit. OK, but don’t worry, I got you. Abel needs to pay off the remaining 60% on his purchase of the $2,500,000 property. He still owes $1.5 million on the property, and only has days to pay off his debt. So Abel goes to Saul Leftkowitz, his competitor, in order to land a $500,000 loan at 20% (!) interest. (I guess it is the 80’s, wasn’t 20% a standard bank loan? I really have no idea.) He lands another $200k by taking a mortgage out against an apartment complex he and his brother own together. (By my math, that leaves him with $800k missing.) But as the clock continues ticking down Abel chases down an individual who had just hijacked one of his trucks. Eventually the hijacker denies that any of his competitors were behind his actions, but that a buyer in Far Rockaway was buying the oil they were stealing. And when Abel realizes who it is, he goes after his competitor in order to make him repay the stolen oil that he purchased at a cut rate. His competitor gives him $200,000, plus or minus. And from there, Abel heads to Peter Forente in order to ask for the final $600k. Only problem is, Peter wants crazy terms in order to get the money.
Got that? Abel is able (hah) to snag the $1.5 million. He can do it. But it’s going to put the life of his company in jeopardy. Now, when Abel tells his wife of the current situation she tells him that she has been skimming money off the top of the company for years. This money would be sufficient to cover the loan offered them by Peter Forente. So now Abel has the money he was needing, and it’s at fairly favorable terms…minus the fact that his wife has been stealing from the company for years. But the number one stressor for Abel is now taken care of. The accountants are happy!
Abel, Anna, and Walsh are walking the property when they are approached by an angry Julian…who happens to be carrying a gun. Julian blames all his problems on Abel. The fact that he’s on the run. That he hasn’t become anything and Abel has. And just like that, Julian commits suicide in front of the three of them. When the police arrive, Abel discusses the DA’s investigation into his business, and they agree to dial down the investigation in exchange for political influence in the future. And as the film ends, Abel explains that he has always tried to choose the “most right thing.” ROLL CREDITS!!!!
I loved everything about this movie. How? Why? Could less have possibly happened over the course of “A Most Violent Year”? By my total, I count a couple of stolen trucks and a suicide. Did I add that up correctly? Uh, yeah, I certainly did. So how could I have enjoyed this movie? Well, simply enough, because it is a moral struggle, an internal conflict. A psychological battle, and a mentally violent year.
The struggle here is interesting in that we are watching Abel as he walks a tautly strung high-wire act before our eyes. It is the violence of his battle against evil in his own daily life. He ATTEMPTS to take the high road at every possible juncture, but fails regularly in spite of his seemingly successful life. He is obviously married to the daughter of a mob boss – and she is ready and willing to call in her family at any wrong turn on Abel’s part. Simultaneously, he’s competing with mafia mob bosses who will do anything and everything to take Abel down. He has danger facing him at every turn. But what do we make of this comment of his that he always tries to do the most right thing? What could that possibly mean? Especially considering the ending, and the deal that he struck with the DA.
It’s this deal with the DA that creates great consternation for me. Abel the Moral One, he decides to make a deal with the DA to help him get elected to political office in exchange for Abel’s help. This makes sense to you? I guess it could be a fair tit for tat without any real moral failings/implications for Abel. But it hints at something deeper in Abel’s life and decisions throughout the movie. He appears to be making the correct LEGAL decisions as the movie unspools, but they aren’t necessarily the correct moral decisions. The biggest example of this is decidedly his interactions with Julian.
Julian and Abel were drivers together when they were both working for Anna’s father, right? And Abel went from driver, to sales, to marrying the mob boss’s daughter. Heck, just working for Anna’s dad wasn’t a correct moral decision. He was a mob boss after all. Worse though, Julian is left behind as Abel moves on to build his own business. Abel leaves him behind as a truck driver when what Julian really wants is to move into sales. Then, when Julian is attacked and hospitalized, he makes it abundantly clear he doesn’t want to drive again. And yet, Abel tells him that he has no chance at sales, and his only option is driving. Worse, Abel doesn’t give any of his drivers protection. OK, so providing illegal handguns to all the truck drivers wasn’t a good option. But what about guards for a period of time until a message is sent to whoever is taking advantage of them. But instead, Julian gets into a firefight and is on the run from the police for the rest of the movie. That is until he commits suicide in front of Anna and Abel. It’s obvious that Julian blamed Abel for his downward spiral. And how is it that Julian could possibly find fault in Abel’s actions if he is always choosing the most right option in every circumstance. This is the violence. This is the war front we are actually talking about here.
My Thoughts on A Most Violent Year
This is a brilliant movie in that it is extraordinarily complex. The conflicts are subversive and illusive. The tension is at 11 constantly throughout the duration of the movie, and we don’t really know why. But more importantly, the conflicts that seem to be happening on the screen isn’t the real violence occurring. But rather, the deeper moral(es) choices are where the conflicts bloom like poppies in a field of, uh, blooming poppies. It’s possibly one of the most complex, non-obvious, movies I’ve ever seen. There’s a lot of moving parts here and most of them are compoundingly confusing. Regardless, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie even in spite of the fact that absolutely nothing happens throughout. I don’t know, what did you guys think of A Most Violent Year?
Edited by: CY