Directed by J.C. Chandor, creator of the acclaimed All is Lost, A Most Violent Year is a drama film about both crime and family. The key word of the film is subtlety, in all departments. The colors are muted under a weak winter sun, and the palate consists almost entirely of whites, greys, and tans. The film thankfully averts stereotypical 80s wardrobes, dressing its characters in similarly subdued outfits, although Oscar Isaac’s phenomenal coat deserves a Supporting Actor nomination for the sheer amount of focus Chandor gives it. The writing is realistic and understated, which only serves to further condense and channel the film’s well-developed sense of drama and suspense.
However, where this film really shines is the acting, particularly that of Isaac and Chastain. Isaac continues to prove that he can put on a fantastic performance in any role and situation, whether as a morally questionable businessman to a struggling folk musician; sadly he does not sing in this film. But while Isaac is very good, Chastain is phenomenal. Rather than being a simple housewife, her character is actually the most ruthlessly terrifying character I’ve seen on screen in quite a while. She’s cutthroat and quietly menacing. The film’s subtlety generally extends to the acting as well, which makes the occasional unexpected outburst all the more surprising and memorable. Make sure especially to keep an eye out for one particular scene involving Jessica Chastain and a deer (trust me, it makes sense on context), which for me was one of the most memorable scenes of the year.
And this creates the primary problem of the film. While there are a number of phenomenal individual scenes, all the parts in the middle just aren’t quite as good. There are in no way poorly made, they just seem a little boring in comparison. If the film had been able to keep the pace and suspense that those select scenes possess running through its entire run-time, then it would have been a great movie. The rest of the film just didn’t do as much for me, and while it is certainly worth seeing, I feel absolutely no need to watch it again. Except for that one scene with Chastain, which I could watch on repeat till Hell freezes over.