Film Review: A Most Violent Year

I can clearly remember A Most Violent Year getting heavily praised, with director J.C. Chandor, actors Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain and a gritty, intense plot, all coming in for equal plaudits along with numerous awards nominations in a wide range of categories. Everything looked like this was a hidden gem, a piece of under the radar quality that deserved more than a passing glance.

Annoyingly though, I missed it’s big screen cinematic release, other films, with bigger reputations demanding my time and so, it’s had to patiently wait until my local independent cinema put on a showing. And so I hopped it to the little theatre, in anticipation of a tense, demanding and intricate film, and instead got a slow, boring and monotonous tale that seems to stall, never really feeling in motion, that left be wondering what all the fuss is about.

Cooking With Gas (Flames) - A Most Violent Year

I was expecting A Most Violent Year to be one of those films that sits there, simmering away, threatening to boil over, to explode into life before the film’s big pivoting finale; but I couldn’t be more wrong. Honestly, it felt like someone had forgotten to turn the gas on. The film just never gets going, it struggles to even walk it feels so slow at times. And worse, this lack of speed just highlights how drawn out and repetitive large parts of the film are. There are huge amounts of this film where I just wanted to scream “OK, I’ve seen that twice now, please, just move on”.

But it doesn’t move on, it just looks closer and closer into itself, never actually saying anything, purely trying to magnify every moment. To micromanage every situation. And it just becomes frustrating. In my head I kept trying to predict where things were going, how events would turn, but rather than fail to guess, it never even bothered to answer. Nothing was explored. It just stands around, not bothering to even acknowledge your ideas. The lack of narrative imagination and character development in A Most Violent Year is shocking.

Oscar Isaac - A Most Violent Year

If the characters had, however, been given depth and personality then there may have been a chance of holding everything together and pulling the story forward, but they don’t. There just isn’t any chemistry between them, and the longer the films goes on the more this cloud of placid coolness seems to expand from them. They never draw you in and so you never believe they are real. The final is focused purely onto Oscaar Issac and for me he struggled in the main role. He just felt out of place and out of his depth. In something like Ex Machina he was able to play a supporting role and without the eyes constantly on him brought a dark and twisted personality to his character. Here he just seems wrong. We’re meant to side with him, feel for him, but all I ever felt was complete mistrust. He doesn’t fit the world around him and when he’s the center of attention, that unease fractures everything.

Jessica Chastain is even worse though, she just feels fake in both the way she acts and the way she looks. She puts in a performance that almost feels embarrassed and swings wildly in on screen emotion to such extremes that you never really feel an plausibility to her. I truly didn’t know where she fitted into to everything, or whether we were meant to be siding to with her or against her. She comes across as a pure enigma, which in this instance is a bad and distracting trait.

Jessica Chastain - A Most Violent Year

The worse part for me though was the plot, as I said it felt beyond stationary and poorly explained. You understand what it happened but never why. It all seems too basic and pathetic. The complete lack of emotion in the film means that the story, the situations, the helplessness we’re meant to draw from the film is always tinged with a pale nothingness. You long for somebody, if they’re not going to tell you who, to at least expand out on why. To try and clarify the picture slightly and help you warm towards the film.

I really wanted to enjoy A Most Violent Year, I was expecting grit and violence, darkness and gangsters and instead I got a frozen trudge of emptiness that even verges of misrepresentation with its title. Being neither Most Violent or A Year. I’m so disappointed by it because, in summary, this film should have worked. It has a good cast and decent plot idea, but the execution has let it down so badly. It never moved me, it never got under my skin, made my heart beat faster, or even came close to connecting with me, to engaging with me, keeping me interested. And this is unforgivable, because I feel like like for one simple reason: it never ever tried to.

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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