A Most Violent Year Blu-ray review
It’s 1981 and things are weary, violent and cold in New York City: news bulletins come over the radio telling of police officers being treated for gunshot wounds; a man driving a truck is attacked, the vehicle hijacked for all of the money inside.
Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, whose rising career got a jolt with INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and will see him co-starring in the new STAR WARS) runs a heating company, a highly profitable business in a New York winter. He’s looking to expand Standard Heating Oil, which he bought from his father-in-law. When the deal works out, he’s given 30 days to come up with the additional funds.
Meanwhile, Morales and his attorney, Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks, Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE), are trying to find out who is behind the hijackings. On top of that, Morales is informed that a criminal case against him and his company are coming from a district attorney (David Oyelowo, who also portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr. this year) seeking to make the oil business more legitimate.
Morales is a man of principles and morals (note the surname), and he’ll come up with a solution that won’t result in acts that will be seen on the evening news, despite belittlement from his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain, Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR), who thinks retaliation is the only way to survive any conflicts and protect his family.
Morales doesn’t come off as an intimidating man (he visits his abused drivers, he is put off by guns), but there is something in the way he talks and holds a room that makes the viewer believe that he could be very dangerous. This is an interesting character, one who is determined to succeed and ensure safety, but without the desire the reach for a loaded pistol. He wants to make it honestly, to stay clean, but we know that it will be a more difficult challenge than turning away the DA. Such a complete character would not be possible without such a compelling performance by Isaac.
Despite its title, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR doesn’t depend on gunplay or bloodshed. The approach, like Morales’ motives, is calculated, with causes weighed and effects considered. This is a smart film, one less influenced by excess than the pictures that would have come out the decade before the film is set. Names like Sidney Lumet have been mentioned for good reason.
It’s the films of the 1970s that really influenced A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, and fans of that era will appreciate the mood created here. Said mood is accomplished not through silly, obvious callbacks (no Kim Carnes or Soft Cell on the soundtrack), but through a flawless collaboration of John P. Goldsmith’s (2007’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) production design, Kasia Walicka-Maimone’s (2012’s MOONRISE KINGDOM) costumes and Bradford Young’s (2013’s AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS, 2014’s SELMA) cinematography.
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is writer/director J.C. Chandor’s third feature, after 2011’s MARGIN CALL and 2013’s ALL IS LOST. With his latest, Chandor now has three excellent, unique pictures to his credit.
Video: 2.40:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. This high-definition transfer presents A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, showcasing the authentic look which captures the era. Further, details are strong and colors are accurate.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles in English and Spanish. The audio transfer is quite strong, with clean dialogue as well as effective music and ambience that present the intended feel of the film.
Audio commentary with writer/director J.C. Chandor and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb: Chandor, Dodson and Gerb offer a strong commentary, offering their thoughts on the production and the historical elements.
Behind the Violence (44:00): This two-part featurette delves into both the movie and the year the film was set, which plays significantly into the plot and style.
A Conversation with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac: There are three interview snippets between the two actors: The Early Years (4:03), A Shared Foundation (3:58) and Mastering the Craft (4:49)
We Can Cure Violence (1:32) is a brief PSA about the spread of violence.
The Contagious Nature of Violence: The Origins of A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (3:10): Chandor and Cure Violence founder Gary Slutkin sit down for a short talk about the inspirations and the consequences of violence.
Deleted Scenes (7:44): There are five here, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “A Toast,” “Boom Box,” “I’m Not a Felon,” “Spoiled Little Brat” and “Welcome to the Neighborhood.”