Growing the Family Business (Film Review: “A Most Violent Year”)

The stakes are high for a hardworking immigrant whose ferocious ambition to seize the American Dream is confounded by suspicion on all sides, a mysterious enemy threatening his very survival, and a nefarious player close to home.


SnapShot Plot 

We all remember the kitchen scene in The Godfather, Part III where an angst-ridden Michael Corleone cries out, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” In the riveting family crime drama, A Most Violent Year, Oscar Isaac’s intense portrayal of businessman, Abel Morales kept reminding me of that iconic line. The titular year in question is 1981, and the family business is fuel and heating oil. The place is New York City and its environs. Like the sanitation and construction businesses, fuel distribution and sales is a cutthroat industry with tribal turf wars, mob pressure, and warring families. And the Teamsters Union. It’s not a pretty business, and you have to get your hands dirty. The question is how much.

Abel’s wife, Anna is powerfully portrayed by Jessica Chastain as a cross between Lady Macbeth and a mother bear. You don’t want to cross her and God help the person or group who threatens her young daughters. Regally decked out in Armani, she’s the queen of her castle and the keeper of the books for the business. But no haute couture can cover her true roots as the daughter of a Brooklyn crime boss whose very own company is now owned by her husband. Abel’s got big plans for the company, with designs on a riverfront property which – if he can successfully purchase from the Hasidim family who owns it – will corner the market and put him in the big leagues. What’s holding him back is a two-year criminal investigation of his industry, led by an ambitious D.A. played by David Oyelowo (Selma; The Butler). Abel keeps maintaining that he’s made his father-in-law’s company a clean business and that he’s got nothing to hide. And his attorney, in an oily performance by Albert Brooks, seems to have a sure hand in the business. But when one of his drivers, a young Hispanic man (Elyes Gabel) who adulates Abel, is brutally assaulted, it’s the latest in a series of attacks against the company’s drivers, and thefts of its product. Pressure is mounting, and when the threats become personal and close to home, Abel and Anna realize they’re at war. But with whom? 



Parting Shot

A Most Violent Year is the third film written and directed by J.C. Chandor (also wrote/directed Margin Call and All Is Lost) In this story, the setting of 1981 is perfectly captured in the clothes, the music of the day, the decor and Oscar Isaac’s perfectly permed and coiffed hair. But the larger takeaway from the story, of course, is the Shakespearean dimension of the characters in their juxtaposition to each other. At the heart of their collective dynamic is a moral ambiguity that at once attracts and repels. It’s a kind of ethical Darwinism, a survival of the fittest, but at what cost is reaching for that golden ring, when if you look closely under the fingernails of even the best-dressed among you, you see an oily ring of filth?

A Most Violent Year is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:

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