Set against the unforgiving New York landscape of 1981, one of the city’s most dangerous years to date – we meet Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) an immigrant entrepreneur who has worked his way to the top, as the owner of a heating oil company. However with a wave of crime and decay suffocating the city and threatening the man’s livelihood – with his vulnerable drivers persistently exposed to carjackings, Abel does all he can to protect his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) and adoring daughters, all while the unsentimental, shrewd district attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) is breathing down his neck.
It’s something of a cliché to describe a location as a ‘character’ – but in the case of A Most Violent Year it’s certainly worth mentioning. New York, in many regards, is the film’s most pivotal antagonist. There are no true villains in this picture, there’s no bad guy who sits in his office stroking a starved, white cat. Instead what our protagonists Abel and Anna are coming up against, is circumstance, a broken society – they’re merely a product, and a victim, of a tumultuous situation and a fragmented, vicious landscape.
With similarities, both in style and substance, to Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, there’s a comparable tension and uncomfortable nature to this thriller, an intensity that’s bubbling beneath the surface throughout. Much like Abel, you’re never able to relax, to feel at ease. The problem is, however, is that while you wait patiently for the crescendo to reach its boiling point, for all factors to culminate together – sadly you’re left wanting. You’re just holding out for the picture to really get going, and regrettably, it never truly does.