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.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.