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‘A Most Violent Year’: Emphatic Praise for a Late Awards-Season Entry

'A Most Violent Year' Reviews: Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in Awards Season Latecomer

So far, J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” is best known as the movie Jessica Chastain’s not supposed to talk about while she’s promoting “Interstellar.” But that shifted last night, when audiences got their first look at the gritty crime drama starring Chastain and Oscar Isaac as it opened Los Angeles’ AFI Fest. Distributor A24 is holding the film back until the literal last minute, opening it on December 31 in New York and L.A. and in January elsewhere, which is already leading to some debate about whether it’s eligible for some’ awards, but it managed a Gotham Awards nomination for Isaac already, and based on the first round of reviews, critics will be fighting to recognize it any way they can.

Reviews of “A Most Violent Year”

Scott Foundas, Variety

In his third turn behind the camera, writer-director J.C. Chandor has delivered a tough, gritty, richly atmospheric thriller that lacks some of the formal razzle-dazzle of his solo seafaring epic, “All Is Lost,” but makes up for it with an impressively sustained low-boil tension and the skillful navigating of a complex plot (at least up until a wholly unnecessary last-minute twist). Like last fall’s “Out of the Furnace,” this solid, grown-up movie-movie is almost certainly too dark and moody to connect with a broad mainstream public or make major awards-season waves, but it does much to confirm Chandor as a formidable filmmaking talent, and star Oscar Isaac as one of the essential American actors of the moment. 

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out

The municipal stew is dense and unusually flavorful, of a kinship with James Gray’s The Yards and other films made for the last handful of adults who still go to theaters. An ambitious cast brings Chandor’s strained labor issues to life with utter believability—and he still somehow finds time for a thrilling chase through an abandoned subway tunnel

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

Chandor has a knack for making arcane business practices not only somewhat comprehensible, but the stuff of potent human drama. He connects this drama to the American dream and the urge to get ahead in life, but neither in any pompous symbolic way nor to take potshots at capitalism. The new film is a tough-minded, bracingly blunt look at the sometimes debilitating cost of doing business that casts an unblinking eye on the physical, emotional and moral bottom line. By pointedly setting the tale in 1981, said to have been the worst year on record for violent crimes such as rape and murder in the city, Chandor seems to be saying that it doesn’t have to be this bad, but this is how badly we have allowed ourselves to behave.

Robbie Collin, Telegraph

You underestimate Mr. and Mrs. Morales at your peril – and, for that matter, Isaac and Chastain. As a couple they’re a dramatic dream team, giving Abel and Anna a gorgeous, acidic chemistry that comes from mixing too much business with not enough pleasure. Isaac, with grey streaks through his hair and a slate-coloured double-breasted suit, once again skulking round chilly New York streets after “Inside Llewyn Davis,” looks like a permanently suspicious crow, while Chastain, all blood-red lips and fine silk blouses, has the poise of a steel sculpture.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

Abel’s not exactly likable — but we’re stuck with him, and Chandor’s ability to explore his protagonist’s struggles shows the filmmaker’s capacity for advanced character development. When Abel delivers a fascinating monologue to his staff about maintaing eye contact with clients “longer than necessary,” it allows his determination to enhance the stakes of his business. At that moment, there’s no doubting his genuine investment in the job at hand, which in turn intensifies the nature of the threats against him.

Tim Grierson, Screen Daily

Shot with deep shadows and a gloomy splendor by rising cinematographer Bradford Young (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”), “A Most Violent Year” aspires to the gritty, grownup drama of 1970s crime films like “The Godfather.” As is Chandor’s preference, the movie thrusts us into the middle of its characters’ world, letting viewers slowly deduce the nomenclature and customs of this particular ecosystem. As a writer, he’s superb at avoiding needless exposition, instead peppering the dialogue with tantalizing references to back story and past incidents that create a rich tapestry of the participants’ lives.

Alonso Duralde, the Wrap

Isaac keeps us guessing as to Abel’s intentions and his strategies, and it matches the unpredictability of “A Most Violent Year” itself. Just when we’re settling into the film being a Lumet-ian character-driven portrait of ambitious connivers, Chandor will, on more than one occasion, organically segue to an adrenaline-packed truck chase that’s as exciting as any big action-movie moment of recent memory.

Drew McWeeny, HitFix

I wasn’t expecting whatever this film was. I am impressed by how adult it is, how confident it is, how sad it is, and yet how much it dares to say you can win after all, you can have it if you’re willing to give yourself up completely. Watching how Abel salvages his deal, how he keeps his dream afloat, how he makes sure he can go home and tell Anna that everything’s going to be okay… it’s crazy. It’s dark. It’s really scary on some level, because the stakes seem to be so very high.

Xan Brooks, Guardian

Chandor’s film invites us to regard the oil supplier as the perfect hero for New York’s imperfect 1980s; the ambitious pioneer from a time when the place was in freefall. The following years will see the rise of Wall Street, the deregulation of the banks and the resurgence of Manhattan as a millionaire’s playground. But the first order of business is to get the power back on. So Morales holds his nose, cuts some corners and sends his trucks across the bridge. He provides the fuel for Reagan’s shining city on the hill.

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