A Most Violent Year (4 stars)

A Most Violent Year

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac shine in JC Chandor's elegant crime flick

'I spent my whole life trying to not become a gangster,' Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) tells his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) in a striking subversion of the famous line from Goodfellas. JC Chandor's third film as writer-director (after Margin Call and All Is Lost) also references De Palma's Scarface in its early 80s setting, costume / hair design and story of an immigrant on the rise. However, A Most Violent Year eschews the theatrics and ultra-violence of the latter, opting for an elegantly presented story of a seemingly honourable businessman beset on all sides by corruption and criminality.

New York City, 1981. Abel is on the cusp of the big-time but a series of fuel tanker hijackings and a police investigation into his business dealings threaten to derail his ambitious plans. He's worked his way up from the bottom, marrying into dirty money – in the shape of crook's daughter Anna – but he honours his debts, looks out for his employees, inspires respect, and insists he's legit. As Abel's rivals circle like vultures these troubles will make or break him.

A Most Violent Year deliberately confounds by rejecting the traditional crime film trajectory, alongside the ferocious masculinity of such films. This is all about control: Abel is determined to maintain it and Chandor shows a steady hand himself, helming the picture with real poise. The intense interactions and explosions of violence make for an unnerving blend, complimented by Bradford Young's cool, crisp photography.

Channelling Pacino, Isaac is a compelling, reliably intriguing presence at the film's core, while David Oyelowo and Albert Brooks provide solid support. Yet it's Chastain who steals the show, rocking a Michelle Pfeiffer-bob and one enviable outfit after another, she once again proves what an electric actress she is; refreshingly, it is Anna who has the confident, criminal swagger – she's quite simply more gangster than her husband. Dirty dealings abound in A Most Violent Year, nevertheless Chandor keeps it classy.

General release from Fri 23 Jan.

A Most Violent Year | Official Trailer

A Most Violent Year

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 2h 5min
  • 15
  • Directed by: JC Chandor
  • Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks
  • UK release: 23 January 2015

New York City, 1981: Abel (Isaac) is a businessman who's married into dirty money, but who's determined to remain legit even as his rivals are circling. Deliberately confounding the clichés of crime movies, Chandor controls the film with real poise. Isaac is compelling and intriguing, but Chastain steals the show as his…