A Most Violent Year (Review)

Directed by J.C. Chandor, US, 2014

A Most Violent Year is a most disappointing movie. It’s not entirely the film’s fault – its ad campaign promised gangster movie action and made allusions to classic crime movies like The Godfather (1972). Instead, A Most Violent Year is a plodding example of American decay.

There are plenty of good films about the decay of once vibrant areas of the United States. This particular film is not one of them. The setting, 1981 New York City, conjures some of the strongest images of urban blight ever committed to film. Unfortunately the film does not focus on the gritty early 80’s world of Manhattan – it focuses on the heating oil hauling business on Staten Island.

The cast does a fine enough job, with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain again demonstrating why they are considered two of Hollywood’s rising stars. A few times, there is genuine suspense.

Fine acting can’t save bad writing, and suspense needs payoff in order to actually work. Even with the flawed pacing and writing, there is a decent film somewhere in there. However, the film is fatally flawed for a single and all encompassing reason – it’s excruciatingly boring.

Boring is a word too often thrown around to describe movies. There are plenty of people who find classic Hollywood and European films boring. To each their own, but I don’t use that term lightly. A Most Violent Year is filled with bleak, colorless images, over-long establishment shots, repetitive dialog, and little ambient music or sound. It focuses on a business so obsolete that it might as well be about door-to-door milkmen. And if it were not for a few shots of the New York skyline, the film might as well have been set in a vacant industrial district in Gary, Indiana.

I can understand why the film’s marketing team wanted to try and sell it as a gritty gangster drama. A dull, only occasionally tense tale of a man trying to get his hands on a bigger oil depot does not exactly draw people to the box office.

You might like A Most Violent Year if: You actually know what it’s about beforehand and you don’t mind paying good money for two hours of boredom.

You might not like A Most Violent Year if: You aren’t easily fooled by high Rotten Tomato scores, and/or you have anything else to do with your time.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe