A Most Violent Year

A well crafted, atmospheric, and believable film for grown-ups

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, who can do no wrong these days) and his wife Anna (the ever-excellent Jessica Chastain) are struggling to make a success of their heating oil business in a competitive, you could say cutthroat industry. This is basically a character study.

Abel bought the business from his wife’s gangster father but is determined to succeed without stooping to the vicious tactics of his mobbed-up competitors and “doing the (most) right things.” The title refers to 1981, when New York’s streets were at their meanest. His delivery trucks are being hijacked, his drivers beaten, his home creeped.

Not for everyone, but a well crafted, atmospheric, and believable film for grown-ups. And while it brings little new to the gritty true-crime thriller genre, you will not know where it’s going. Also a surprisingly deep turn by a nearly unrecognizable Albert Brooks, and David Oyelowo fleshes out a slim role as the DA tasked with cleaning up the industry.

Despite the title, it’s not that violent, but there is an undeniable, palpable undercurrent of menace throughout. Directed without showy tactics by the genre-jumping J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost and Margin Call), here successfully channeling ’70s Lumet and Scorsese. Japanese title: American Dreamer: Risō no Daishō. (125 min)