The foreboding atmosphere is palpable from the first minute. Background radios offer a persistent crackle; news of another shooting or murder on these most dangerous of streets. The trucks from Abel's company are repeatedly being hijacked and the fuel syphoned. However, he will not arm his drivers for fear of an incident that will derail an impending deal, or bring the District Attorney (David Oyelowo) down upon his head. Of course, all men have a breaking point and Chandor's screenplay pushes and needles to find Abel's. The interest lies not only in how far he can bend before snapping, but how many people he is willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of honouring his own combination of ego and ethics.
Refinement is the image he wants to cultivate, but Isaac's performance brims with charm and menace. It is easy to understand how such a man won the heart of Chastain's straight-talking gangster's daughter, and equally the steel that she most values in him is evident in his penetrating gaze. She also embodies Chandor's recurring motif of self-preservation, doing a little syphoning of her own. The moral ambiguity that pervades the entire cast of characters - extending to bank manager and D.A. alike - is accentuated by shadowy interiors and the cold desolation of disused filling stations on the water's edge. Although A Most Violent Year may hit fever pitch when Abel engages in a nerve-wracking chase of a stolen tanker, it's in the murky uncertainties and frosty climate that it endures and excels.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson