Set during the winter of 1981 — statistically one of the most crime-ridden of New York City’s history — A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a drama following the lives of an immigrant and his family as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built. (C) A24
A Most Violent Year went from solid awards contender to barely earning any nominations across various movie industry organizations that recognize the best in film. For the first time since Quills, it became a movie that won over The National Board of Review but failed to earn a Best Picture nomination. (Maybe blame the new style of balloting that awards passion support over follow by the number admiration.) It was a competitive year and there are only so many spots for nominations.
There are quite a few characteristics I admired about A Most Violent Year: the strong acting, the skilled cinematography, the nostalgic setting/mood, and the tight screenplay. Regarding the technical aspects, most movies don’t have what A Most Violent Year has. Likewise, many movies have something A Most Violent Year doesn’t have: a reason to be made in the first place. The sum of its whole parts didn’t inspire me to rave about it like I was expecting. More like a most pointless, boring experience. I didn’t understand why this movie needed to be produced which is its biggest flaw.
However, make no mistake: Jessica Chastain was ravishing in this. I wanted more screen time from her as well as additional character exposition. As Anna Morales, it seemed at times that she was running the business plus the side operation and not her husband Abel. He was “the man of the house,” but was she the one really in charge? She is one of the best American actresses working today and she was robbed of an Oscar nomination. 2014 was a masterful cinematic year for Jessica Chastain and this was her best performance from one of her best years.
This is J.C. Chandor’s most accomplished and complex movie, but not his best. With Margin Call and All Is Lost, he was contained as a director from boardrooms to a boat. To a certain degree, he was limited in his potential but excelled at telling captivating stories while driving incredible performances out of his movies. I have a conflicted reaction to A Most Violent Year because I liked aspects to what was on screen but didn’t enjoy the movie. Like the lingering mood, I felt that A Most Violent Year needed a reason for me to care about it. Other than its 1981 setting which happens to be the year I was born, I never found that reason.
I rate A Most Violent Year a 6.5 out of 10.