A Most Violent Year | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Most Violent Year

A period drama set in 1981 New York about one man's drive to succeed

In J.C. Chandor's new drama, set in New York City in 1981, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is embroiled in a dispute between heating-oil companies. Morales is expanding his own heating-oil operation, but he's juggling sabotage from competitors, a federal investigation and blowback from shady financial partners. There's a bit of violence in the story, but the title more likely refers to the general state of New York, as well as the upheaval in Morales' plans. Mostly what Chandor (Margin Call) offers is a downbeat but fascinating character study of Morales, a methodical striver, who is determined to pilot his American Dream craft through rough waters without incident. Isaac racks up another great performance as the rattled but steady Morales, and Jessica Chastain is his match as his hard-edged, scheming wife and business partner. For a work set essentially in the 1970s, Chandor echoes the tenor of some of that decade's slow-burning, gritty crime dramas, like Serpico and The French Connection, which pit flawed but determined men against a seemingly unending wave of crime and corruption.

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