After a second viewing I realize I love this film precisely for what it isn’t. It is not, as its title might suggest, a violent mob movie. Abel Morales’s (Oscar Isaac) gangster seeming facade is instead belied by his upstanding moral character, often times frustratingly so. And it’s his rejection of violence that not only make for an admirable character, but make the scattered few scenes of actual violence and activity all the more consequential.
A Most Violent Year benefits most prominently through its atmosphere merging uneasiness with depravity. There’s a subtle sepia tone used throughout the movie that make the the grimy and scuzzy New York City feel every bit as atrophic as it was in 1981. Business and bureaucratic offices are dimly lit, causing greater uneasiness at the goings ons in those offices. Deliberate and precise creative choices like this mirror the equally calculated and straight edged manner with which Abel conducts his business. He’s an immigrant who owns an oil company with aspirations to grow, so naturally the film details the things that aim to hinder this desired expansion, which turns out to be a lot. Everyone around him, from his wife to the setting, is a temptation. Characters offer and act out solutions he sees as easy, so when he chooses to not pull the trigger (both figuratively and not), a recurring little riff kicks in that make Abel look both bad-ass and deserving.
Stray Thoughts [SPOILERS]
-As I mentioned in the review, the action scenes here are few and far between, but they were gripping as hell. There's a real sparing use of music during them, and it's really intense. The scene where the Standard Oil employee runs away from the cops on the bridge comes to mind.
-Glad to see Hesh from The Sopranos playing another Jew, except now more Jewish than ever.
-The only real negative I have with the movie is with one of its final scenes. Specifically where the troubled ex-employee threateningly brandishes a gun in front of the main characters, before eventually offing himself. I guess it feels a little too much like an ending thriller moment for the sake of having an ending thriller moment in an otherwise grounded movie. Though I can see it as being worthy since it allowed the great visual of jet black oil guzzling out on the snow from where the bullet hit, followed by Abel plugging it up with a hanky, subtly marking an impressionable character change. Does showing him save his precious oil after such a horrific scene signify a greedier Abel? I think so.
-Speaking of that scene, can a handkerchief really plug up a leak to a big tanker like that? I don’t know how oil pressure tendencies by volume work.
-Big year for David Oyelowo huh? This is obviously on the less flashy side of Interstellar and Selma, but he's really becoming big-name.
-Best Scene: Abel standing over the thug-for-hire after choosing not to kill him. Isaac really sells Abel's (and the audiences') desire to pull the trigger, and when he doesn't it becomes something unique in today's age of anti-heroes. The music here really sells this shot.
-Best Line: "The result is never in question for me. Just what path do I take to get there. And I have never questioned my path. There is always one that is most right." -Abel Morales