Film Review – A Most Violent Year


“What good is the American Dream if you can’t sleep at night because of the things you did to achieve it?”

A Masterpiece of Modern American Cinema – As good as The Sopranos, American Gangster, Mean Streets, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction and GoodFellas.

There’s clearly something pivotal that happened in the American Psyche in 1981 to make it such a popular era for filmmakers.

From Forrest Gump to The Pursuit of Happyness, 1981 is a year that keeps getting revisited on the big screen.

Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter as President in January of that year, going on to survive an assassination attempt in March.

The Space Shuttle Columbia suffered a mishap that killed 3 and injured 5. (22 years later it would disintegrate on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere killing all on board.)

In June of 1981 the USA entered into a severe recession and the first cases of AIDS were diagnosed. It was also a year that saw the launch of MTV, the first IBM computer go on sale, and Metallica form.

Not to mention the ongoing Cold War and the Iran hostage crisis permeating the public consciousness, and 1981 seems to be a pretty tumultuous year for America and her people.

1981 was also statistically the most dangerous year in New York City’s history.

Set against this backdrop, A Most Violent Year tells the story of a hardworking, idealistic man Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) who builds a business selling heating oil from the ground up, with lofty ambitions only to encounter obstacles at every turn. It’s the way he deals with these challenges that make AMVY such a compelling film.

Given the film’s title, there is a burning tension developing on screen throughout the entire film that the audience expects to detonate in a display of violence.

At one stage Morales and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) witness one of their young daughters playing with a loaded pistol abandoned in the snow during an attempted burglary of their new home. In another scene at their home, they are raided by police during a ten year old’s birthday party. Anna’s response – “This was very disrespectful” is so laden with menace and power, she makes a chilly winters day in New York drop another 20 degrees with her icy delivery.

These are just two of many unforgettable scenes that combine to create a Masterpiece of American Cinema. Like a gourmet meal from a celebrated chef, all the right ingredients add up to an experience you never want to end.

As good as The Sopranos, American Gangster, Mean Streets, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction and GoodFellas.

4 & ½ Stars.

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