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Movie Night – 'A Most Violent Year' brings less than expected to screen (April 29, 2015 issue)

The title “A Most Violent Year” is a misnomer. In the grand scheme of movies released in the last twenty years, “A Most Violent Year” is not very violent. The mostly non-violent drama can now be seen On Demand or rented from Red Box.
Set in New York in 1981, “A Most Violent Year” tells the story of Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), as they fight to keep their business afloat. They own Standard Oil, not the behemoth company that was started by John D. Rockefeller, but a fledgling heating oil business.
When it comes to the business itself, everything is great at Standard Oil. The problem for the Morales family is that the company is doing so well that it’s attracting the unwanted attention of its competitors.
Standard Oil’s trucks are being hijacked at an alarming rate. Each truck contains thousands of dollars’ worth of heating oil. The trucks are found abandoned, empty of fuel. The stakes are raised considerably when one of the drivers is beaten fairly harshly. (This is pretty much the entirety of the violence in the movie.)
Abel is a calm, reasonable man with a good head for business. He’s a good man who only wants to grow his business. Conversely, Anna is the daughter of a mobster and implores Abel to fight violence with violence.
The head of the Teamsters union encourages Abel to arm all of his drivers so they can fight back. Despite the pressure on Abel, he refuses to provide guns to his drivers. He is convinced that arming his drivers, or any type of physical aggression, will only make things worse.
At the same time Abel is trying to broker a deal to purchase a fuel oil terminal on the East River. This terminal would allow him to unload heating oil directly from barges and give him the capacity to store massive amounts of heating oil. It would also give him a leg up on his competition.
The movie was named “A Most Violent Year” because 1981 was one of the most violent years in the history of New York City. But this movie is more about the threat of violence that hangs over the characters rather than actual violence.
That’s due in large part to the fact that Abel Morales chooses to fight acts of violence with his business acumen rather than with physical force. He aims to outsmart everyone. Abel acts as a counter-balance to the violent tactics of other businesses, legitimate or otherwise, in the city.
Oscar Isaac is very good as the honest and hardworking main character who wants to do things the right way. He wants to earn his money rather than take it by force. Jessica Chastain provides the perfect yin to Isaac’s yang. Chastain is very convincing as a mobster’s daughter who knows only one way to deal with her problems, with violence and intimidation. How Abel and Anne got together is a mystery given their completely divergent personalities.
“A Most Violent Year” is a good movie, but I was expecting more. I thought I was going to watch the next “Godfather,” and instead I saw a movie about organized crime without any organized criminals. I expected (wanted) something profound, an iconic movie that I would never forget, but instead received something average and forgettable.
Grade: B
Rated R for language and some violence.