Grudges in “A Most Violent Year” feel ancient


Judging from the way it was dropped off in theaters like an orphan, after failing to get any Oscar nominations, it looks like they are burning off “A Most Violent Year.” So see it while you can.

This meditative and atmospheric thriller was one of my favorite films of 2014.

ruthOscar Isaac, unrecognizable from “Inside Llewyn Davis,” plays an independent heating oil distributor in New Jersey during the 1980s who has thirty days to come up with a way to pay for a property that would expand his business or lose his down payment.

At the same time someone is hijacking his trucks and beating up his drivers, in an attempt to steal his product and ruin his business.

His strong-willed wife, played by Jessica Chastain, who keeps the company books, is connected to organized crime and offers to reach out to her family for help. Meanwhile, the union demands his drivers be able to carry sidearms to protect themselves.

He is a take charge and, mostly, moral guy. But as fear eats away at the margins he walks a shrinking middle ground with few allies in his search for reason, compromise and ways to pay off his debt.

There are so many traps and snares along the way the odds are he falls into one of them. But will he be buried or manage to extricate himself?

“All Is Lost” and “Margin Call” writer-director J. C. Chandor creates a noose tightening scenario driven by an electric performance from Isaac. His slicked back hair, quiet charisma and five o’clock shadow, suggest Al Pacino, circa “The Godfather II.” He even has a Fredo in the traumatized driver who is the story’s sacrificial lamb.

Chastain received a Golden Globe nomination as the icy blonde wife trailing cigarette smoke who is flint to his steel. And Alessandro Nivola as a corrupt colleague, Albert Brooks as Isaac’s lawyer, David Oyelowo as a government investigator and Peter Gerety as the union reap, all have juicy supporting roles.

The violence is minimal but the grudges at the center of the piece feel ruthless and ancient.

“A Most Violent Year” is showing at the Marcus Theaters and AMC Mayfair.

Three and one half stars ***1/2


With Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, David Oylowo, Peter Gertey, Catalina Sandino Moreno. Produced by Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb. Written and directed by J. C. Chandor. Approximate running time: 125 minutes. Rated R, adult theme, language, violence.

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