A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014)

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“The result is never in question, just the path you take to get there.”

Set in New York in 1981, this masterpiece tells the story of Abel, a business-man in the oil industry trying to expand and grow his trade. Apparently 1981 was statistically the most dangerous time in the city and this is felt in the film.

There are many aspects of this film that I would like to discuss but that would give away too much of the narrative. This is an epic film with big themes, akin with some of the great stories from history.

J.C. Chandor writes and directs this near enough masterclass in story-telling, keeping the tension high and the pressure on our hero, Abel (pronounced Ah-Bell).

Brilliantly played by the man of the moment Oscar Isaac, he instills Abel with a moral fortitude rarely seen on screen. He is the epitome of right action and therein lies his challenges, working in a complicated, political world that doesn’t always play by the rules.

By his side is the hugely talented Jessica Chastain playing his wife and here she delivers a performance filled with danger, loyalty, strength and feminity. There is a touch of the Lady Macbeth’s in her work, subtly manipulating Abel in order to achieve her goals but at the same time being a rock for him.

There is a palpable sense of underlying danger that threatens to rear its ugly head at any time. It’s this unseen threat that really keeps the tension taut, helped in no small measure by the haunting soundtrack composed by Alex Ebert.

The incredibly gifted cinematographer, Bradford Young shows his skills with his beautifully constructed shots. I’d first noticed him when he shot Pariah and he recently shot Selma. He is a talent I will be looking out for.

There’s been a lot said about the seeming snub from the Oscars this year, when put into the mix of the nominated films it stands head and shoulders above most of them. This was attributed to its late release (late 2014). Chastain was nominated in other ceremonies and won several awards for her performance, rightly so, interestingly Oscar Isaac tied the award for best actor with Michael Keaton (Birdman) at the National Board of Review awards in the United States.

His performance is quiet, subtle and grounded in an otherworldly energy at times, that is up there with the great performances of the last year (along with Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, another overlooked, powerhouse achievement). Isaac brings to mind Al Pacino as Michael Corleone without the overt menace in his portrayal of Abed. David Oyelowo continues to show his skills as the district attorney who is investigating Abel’s company. Alessandro Nivola, who needs to be in more films, is as charming as the devil as one of Abel’s competitors, Peter Forente. The mighty Albert Brooks is Andrew Walsh, Abed’s consigliere. Jerry Adler (The Sopranos) is the man whom Abel is doing business with and he imbues his role with wisdom and fair play.
Special mention goes to Elyes Gabel, a British actor who is doing very well for himself, here delivering a performance filled with uncertainty and depth. His character is pivotal to the story and will leave you feeling sympathy for him.

There is an undercurrent of instability that permeates every shot. Taking its mood from the American films of the seventies, this has more than a whiff of The Godfather but never once feels like plagiarism, much more homage and being the best way to tell the story.

Chandor does it again, making a film that really should have got more attention, it will become a classic in the eyes of most cognoscenti and hopefully the rest of the cinema going public.

A most affecting film.

If you haven’t seen it, find it and watch; you won’t be disappointed.

4.2/5

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GOMORRA (2008)

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A gangster film with a difference; gone are the romantic, sweeping strokes of the films we know and love, and in its place is a City of God style realism that takes you to the heart of this violent world.

Based on Roberto Saviano’s best selling account of the Camora, an crime organization in Naples that is akin to the Sicilian Mafia and directed by Mateo Garrone, this incredible film is so engaging for a film that eschews conventional story-telling and in its place gives the audience a documentary style that grabs the viewer and doesn’t let go until the final credits.
Garrone lived for 2 months in the Scampia area that the film takes place in before filming the movie and Saviano, the writer of the book, had to go into hiding after the publication in fear for his life.

The violence is quick and over before you know it, making it all the more visceral and shocking, but it’s the threat of violence that looms over the proceedings that lingers. The estate that much of the film takes place in is steeped in poverty and the residents are trapped in a cycle of war between the gangs that live there.

The word mafia is never used in The Godfather, and the same happens here, Camora is never mentioned.

Gomorrah won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes the year it came out and well-deservedly so. This is a film like few others. It feels like a documentary and this is down to the brilliant editing of Marco Spoletini, the impeccable direction of Garrone but the main honours should go to the actors. Toni Servillo is the only really well-known actor here, the rest are a mixture of seasoned theatre actors and kids from the street (as in City of God).
They are so committed and rooted in reality that you never see the acting and this is testament to Garrone’s direction and their incredible talent.

The last shot is so powerful, it’s been a while since I felt this way at the end of a film.

With the release of the television series, it was finally time to watch this film that has been on my radar since it came out and what an experience it was.

This is a brilliant indictment of the corrupt, broken system that is in place in Naples to this day; brutal, raw and honest.

A must watch.

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4/5