Set in New York amidst a soaring crime rate in 1981, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a man hoping to build a booming business. A young upstart, focussed and determined, his heating business is pitched against other family run businesses who will keep their foothold on the local area at any cost.
In search of the American dream, he marries the boss’s daughter (Jessica Chastain) and takes over the business from her father. Hoping to build on an existing platform, he promises change in the form of a morally correct way of doing things and an ambitious expansion plan, but all the while the suspicious behaviour demonstrated by all the heating firms triggers a police investigation.
Despite its name, this is not a violent film. While it may be set against one of the largest crime waves to be seen in New York, much of what goes on is handled through intense, brooding discussions showcased with the outstanding acting by Isaac and Chastain. It doesn’t need to be bloody, gimmicky or pander to the stereotypes associated to the mafia-styled films – it takes on a different form altogether, and challenged my preconceptions of what a gangster movie could be.
Its appearance reflects that of the industry Morale’s enters; cold, unforgiving and bleak. The cinematography captures this beautifully, with stark contrasts of our characters against the winter sun, perhaps fitting that they are in fact trying to sell warmth in an environment that’s cold in more ways than one. It’s brilliantly put together, and director J.C. Chandor (All is Lost) has successfully managed to create a crime drama that not only looks incredible, but by channelling the talents of Isaac and Chastain he has enabled their characters to display a true emotional depth – an asset that can often be missed from films of this subject matter.
This is a far cry from your standard gangster movies; it is a subtle and understated film, with engrossing dialogue and an intriguing story. It looks and feels like a mature film, one that people will surely come back to and appreciate upon multiple viewings. For now, if it is your first time going into this, adjust your expectations with respect to the level of violence, because while it may have been The Most Violent Year, if you go in expecting the guns and gimmicks, you could be very disappointed.
Great review! Saw the film myself today, completely agree with all of your points.
Cheers Gareth. Digging through my archives! Hope all is good? I haven’t been too hot on the reviewing as of late, but loving Letterboxd. Are you on there?