Producers Guild screening, Arclight Hollywood
Those of us waiting with bated breath for Godfather IV can exhale. It’s here. Sort of.
In A Most Violent Year, the old, gritty New York City comes alive. Dressed in Armani, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a Hispanic version of Michael Corleone. He runs a quasi legitimate business in heating oil, a commodity that can mean life or death on a winter’s night. His wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) is also his business partner and office manager. Abel is in the middle of a turf battle with other operators. One of his truck drivers was pistol whipped and hijacked. What to do?
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor [All is Lost (2013)], the movie gets high marks for originality. As he said at the PGA screening, he heard about the heating oil wars years ago but was unable to find the financing until recently. Fortunately, it was right on time for Isaac and Chastain to play the leads. Chandor described his characters as “very real people you see in these very heightened moments.” Do you think?
Chandor claims that he’s “basically a moron about film history.” In other words, he doesn’t see himself as astute enough to have copied anything directly. That could be the source of his originality, he says. “The film was structured as a classic gangster film but at all moments, when you thinks it’s going right, it takes a left.”
David Oyelowo, who had a great year onscreen, adds support as Abel’s nemesis, a local DA who’s probably on the take. Albert Brooks is also onboard as Abel’s lawyer.
Besides The Godfather Trilogy, other antecedents are William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971) and Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). Shot by Bradford Young, the action sequences are among the most realistic in an American movie this century. Alex Ebert’s orchestral score strikes the right emotional tones in both the action and dramatic moments. I agree with my colleague at mxdwn.com, that the score “feels perfect for the early ‘80s setting.”
Isaac shows his versatility, branching out from the cynical folksinger from Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). At the Q&A, he and Chastain, who lobbied for Isaac, reminisced about their student days at Juilliard. She kidded about his rep as a star pupil, saying that they never acted together before so they “were very excited to do this film.” Chandor emphasized that A Most Violent Year isn’t really about heating oil. It’s about the couple. Chastain’s Anna, in early 80s splendor, takes her place with Mafia wives Diane Keaton in The Godfather, Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface and Edie Falco on The Sopranos. It’s a family tradition.