Despite fine acting, 'A Most Violent Year' lacks some punch

Stars Oscar Issac, Jessica Chastain, and others gamely try to elevate writer-director J.C. Chandor's story about New York's heating oil business of the late 20th century.

Atsushi Nishijima, A24/AP
This photo, released courtesy of A24, shows Jessica Chastain, left, and Oscar Isaac, in a scene from J.C. Chandor's "A Most Violent Year."

Oscar Isaac, so strong in his breakout movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” compounds the good impression in writer-director J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year,” in which he plays Abel Morales, a businessman ensnared in the corrupt oil-heating business in 1981 New York.

It’s a gangster movie that tries to be more than that, not always successfully. In his own small-scale way, Chandor wants to expand the reach of his vision to “Godfather” status, with Abel as his shining (tainted) knight.

His ambitions exceed his grasp, and his budget, but there are fine performances throughout not only by Isaac but also by Jessica Chastain as his brassy wife, Albert Brooks as the company lawyer, and David Oyelowo (currently also playing Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma”) as an unsparing assistant district attorney. 

Grade: B (Rated R for language and some violence.)

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