Tuesday, 13 January 2015


J. C. Chandor aspires to teach America a lesson, and implore it to heed his warning, entrusting his natural appreciation for the dramatic structure of cinema to shoulder the burden of producing a watchable film, rather than a tiresome lecture. Chandor's techniques are brimful of pomp and portent, but he knows how to use what tools the medium provides him to transform simple scenarios into striking ones, straightforward visual and aural compositions into arresting, stylish ones that appeal to the senses to enrich the experience. Whether or not Chandor stresses his allegorical points too strenuously, and the jury may forever be out on that question, A Most Violent Year is a cannily pitched drama, starkly lit and narrowly focused, less a pressure cooker than a pressure freezer in the icy New York winter. The big time remains stagnantly perched in view but out of reach for Oscar Isaac's small-time businessman, his life instead characterised by the trappings of the nouveau riche, set to splurge all over the city, and the country (and the world) over the coming decade of the 1980s. He strives to do business in a legal, respectful way; it is only when forced to succumb to the frigid darkness that envelops him that he enjoys any true success, and only then that he can outsmart and abate the authorities. Like this bastion of reason and respectability, A Most Violent Year displays a dedication to its motives, resulting in a fairly unchanging, one-track movie that allows for few surprises - it's the comfort of Chandor's style that enables it to achieve something approaching the stoic greatness he aspires to. Teaching America a lesson is a wholly different thing, though - it's not that it's heard it all before (and it has), it's that it just doesn't want to learn.