Since the passing of the great Sidney Lumet, purveyor of some of the great films of the seventies, including Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict and Network, no American filmmaker has emerged to lay claim to the thrown. Lumet shooting largely on the streets of New York using hundreds of locations to make films about corruption and crime featuring some extraordinary performances from the likes of Al Pacino, Paul Newman and Peter Finch. J. C. Chandor announces himself as one of the most interesting directors working today, with a capacity for complexity and nuance in his narratives. Fresh from the Robert Redford alone at sea suspensor here he delivers one of the best American films of the past year. Sadly few people will see it.
New York City 1981 one of the most violent years in the City’s history, more murders and rapes in the city than anytime before. It is at this moment that the emerging businessman Abel Morales chooses to expand his business. Unfortunately rival competitors are robbing his Standard oil trucks of their contents. They are also threatening his family, the District Attorney (David Oyelowo) is in the process of bringing a case against him for inappropriate practices in the industry. The unions are demanding their drivers to carry handguns in the trucks, and the bank is starting to lose faith in Abel’s ability to payback loans. His wife Anna (Chastain), the daughter of a gangster carefully keeps the books, and he has just moved into a big new house in an upper scale neighbourhood. Progressively his life begins to spiral and the moral question remains, will he resort to violence or calmly use other methods to achieve his dream?
Credit must go to Bradford Young the cinematographer who recently lensed Selma.
He captures a noir darkness that imbues the film. A scene in a barber shop early in the pic, between Abel and one of his competitors recalls Gordon Willis’s work in The Godfather, the light accentuates the face but everything else in the frame is dark and ominous. As the central protagonist Isaac is compelling, Isaac first came to my attention playing Jose Ramos-Horta in Balibo and more recently in the Coen brothers Inside Llewyn Davis. His Abel is an immigrant who is determined to fulfil the promise of the American dream without resorting to the temptation to use violence to solve his problems. It’s a clam understated performance rarely resorting to histrionics to carry a scene, and yes it recalls Pacino’s work in The Godfather. Chastain is his equal as his more tempestuous tough-minded wife, who would clearly kill to protect her children. Oyelowo and Brooks provide great support.