(US/United Arab Emirates - 2014)
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor. Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Peter Gerety, Christopher Abbott, Ashley Williams, Jerry Adler, Elizabeth Marvel, David Margulies, Glenn Fleshler, John Procaccino, Robert Clohessy, Annie Funke. (R, 125 mins)
If you were to walk into J.C. Chandor's A MOST VIOLENT YEAR blind, knowing nothing about it, you might very well think it's a lost Sidney Lumet "gritty NYC" movie that's been on the shelf since 1981. In the course of just three films since 2011--he previously wrote and directed the mesmerizing financial meltdown chronicle MARGIN CALL and the Robert Redford lost-at-sea survivalist drama ALL IS LOST--Chandor has established himself as arguably the most versatile young talent in American filmmaking. With A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, Chandor wears his love of Lumet and a bygone era of NYC filmmaking on his sleeve. Set in the winter of 1981 during a record wave of violent crime, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR crackles with the kind of energy and intensity you just don't see much of these days. This is a movie for people who like big-city corruption dramas of the 1970s and early 1980s. Chandor's attention to detail is sharp and precise, and he lets the atmosphere, characterization, and performances convey the era rather than resorting to the easy, go-to tropes of garish clothing or the popular music of the period, which usually means a scene in a disco where Blondie's "Heart of Glass" is playing, or making the whole film play like the coked-up paranoia section of GOODFELLAS, which only works if you're AMERICAN HUSTLE. The problem with many of today's films that are set in the 1970s and 1980s is that they overdo the easy signifiers like hairstyles, clothing, and music. Chandor doesn't even break out those crutches, and instead approaches A MOST WANTED YEAR from a you-are-there 1981 perspective devoid of any sense of nostalgia. It's as if he's possessed by the spirit of the late, legendary Lumet.