A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Finally saw this. An anti-capitalist parable with stern fidelity to '81 New York. A texture and colour palette - yellows, greens, and greys - that instinctively feels right. Offices and rooms are dotted with patterns of swirling dust and light, faces half-shrouded in shadow, double-breasted camel overcoats swing over shoulders.

In a scene near the end, in the snow, when Isaac plugs up a hole in his oil barrel — might be a touch literal for some. If there’s a detraction to be made, this sudden last-minute denouement feels a little bit hysterical by comparison to the restraint and understatement throughout. Chastain is perfect in a scene where she offers a policeman a slice of her kid’s birthday cake and then pointedly warns him about ‘disrespecting’ her family, whisking away in her Armani wardrobe and a swirl of cigarette smoke. She’s a tough broad, a loyal wife, and probably superior to her husband; certainly she’s much less self-deluded.

Abel Morales wants to stay straight, but the stakes aren’t all that high if he doesn't. It's not so much that he will be sucked into the undertow of corruption; it’s that he doesn’t actually have to be owned by gangsters in order to be culpable. He’s cold as ice, and doesn’t so much as flicker when an associate is about to commit suicide in front of him. He won't even make an attempt to convince the man otherwise, because when it comes down to it he knows it is expedient for the man to be ‘out of the way’.

His righteousness isn’t out of some kind of deeply-rooted ethical sense so much as a stubborn, prideful determination to be deemed “respectable”. (we can guess, maybe, in the eyes of the homogenous, upwardly mobile ‘80s America. Suffice it to say Morales is well suited to the Reagan era.)

Chastain, like the various others around her husband, is ultimately a crook - and that’s fine, because it’s a crook’s world. In the film’s logic, there’s no such thing as staying clean - you must get your hands dirty to get to the top, + business is always complicit. The way Isaac holds onto the feeling of respectability is a version of the immigrant’s fairy tale, and flickers of his Latino accent come to the surface occasionally. In both demeanor and bearing he can occasionally recall a young Pacino, and his potent charisma is there, too; it’s funny, then, that Chastain and her hair have a marked resemblance to Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface.