"If I were you, I would start treating us with a little more respect or I guarantee he will make it his mission in life to ruin you."
New York, 1981. The most violent year in the history of the metropolis New York. No doubt about it, but that violence probably took place somewhere else than where this film took place. Are you expecting some sort of mafia film like "Once upon a time in America", "The Godfather", "Scarface" or "The Untouchables" ? Well sorry, but this will be a disappointment for you because it's not such type of mafia movie. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is the opposite of a Don Corleone. Anything that smells like mafia stuff or corruption, he tries to avoid studiously. He's trying to run his business in oil fair and square, without falling back on violent and corrupt interventions. And this despite the tough competition which apparently has no problem with applying harsh and intimidating methods. Abel, the epitome of honesty in these turbulent criminal years, faces terrified truck drivers and an increasing loss because of stolen oil. This together with an investigation by the District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo), who is determined to uncover wrongdoings, ensures that an investment Morales trying to finalize with some Jewish businessmen, will be compromised and is doomed to fail.
I didn't expect a film about a supplier of oil in the first place. It certainly provides opportunities for other business sectors to be placed at the center of public attention. After "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Promised Land" it was time to put the hard-working fuel suppliers, who make sure that we ordinary citizens have a cozy warm house during a severe winter, in the spotlight. I don't want to have a prejudice against this noble profession, but as a subject, it resulted in a painfully slow movie in which there was not much to be seen. I did notice the terrible shortage of light-bulbs in that time. Large parts of the film are bathed in scorching darkness. Dark offices, dark corridors, nocturnal wanderings through the house and garden, dark tunnels and staircases. Probably it has to do with the fact that these were the most nefarious years and the protagonists were accustomed to nightly activities. Or it's because many things weren't allowed to see the light in that period ? I'm still completely in the dark about that.
I'll be honest though. The performances are spectacular. Isaac plays the stubborn manager masterfully. Despite all the setbacks and the enormous pressure he remains determined on the outlined course he doesn't want to deviate from. Despite the warning from a union man that the truck drivers will abandon him and the continuing distrust of his wife Anna Morales (Jessica Chastain), which apparently has a mafia past, has a dizzying cleavage and commits the only violent offense in this film (with a poor deer as the victim), he doesn't want to yield to unfair practices. He fits perfectly in snowy New York. He's as cool and chilly. And that was my biggest problem with the characters. They are all totally numb. Anna is even colder than Abel. The only one who showed some emotions was Julian (Elyes Gabel) whose fear and desperation were believable.
I've also seen A.J. Chandor's film "All is lost" long time ago and can only conclude that this film fits perfectly. "All is lost" was also visualized beautifully with an unusual rendition, but painfully slow and boring. Brilliant performances, elaborate personalities and expressive character roles serve as the foundation of timeless classics. But when a movie only contains that and has nothing else interesting to offer, you can be sure that a large part of the audience will be slightly disappointed. Including me.
I'm sure that Morales has the saying "Honesty is the best policy" framed above his bed. And yet, his character was quite contradictory when it comes to being honest. The term "morality" is extremely valuable to Morales (What's in a name), but at the final confrontation with Lawrence, corruption comes into play. The "like knows like" feeling pops up and then finally Morales tends to do a favor in a way it's still applied nowadays in the world of business and politics. And the ultimate act in the end, with a banal handkerchief being used to seal a puncture in a huge oil tank, is implausible as a physical phenomenon and also in contradiction with the character of Abel. Apparently the business aspect is more important than the human aspect at that moment. Eventually still a ruthless businessman, our saint Abel.
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