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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MARGIN CALL (2011)

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Written and directed by J.C. Chandor this tautly wound script and story-telling style brings to mind a great play. Mostly due to the workman-like office settings, this enables Chandor and his merry bunch of talented actors to unfurl the story in a way unusual to film. That’s not to say it hasn’t been done before and brilliantly (12 Angry Men, Glengarry Glenross, All the President’s Men) but it’s rarely done well and often enough.

The realistic, theatrical approach allows the protagonists of the piece, yet antagonists of the well-being of capitalist society, to be shown as humans, not merely some callous rogues that will probably end up dead or in jail.

This is a film about capitalism, greed and how far it can be taken. Loosely based on the American financial crisis of 2008/9 it draws on, without being specific, the world of Goldman Sachs, the Lehmann Brothers and Bear Stearns. Using an un-named Wall Street investment company allows investigation of an event that was probably a long time coming. It manages to keep the stakes high and feel like this is how it could have probably went down.

Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) gets fired from a big investment firm as part of a major culling. The project he was working on before he was ejected from the building has implications too huge for the immediate bosses to see. He hands over a USB to one of his underlings, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), who stays behind to work on it, discovering information that requires him to call his boss late at night with the not so great news. And so the wheel begins to turn on an event that will have far-reaching effects on many, many lives.

Jeremy Irons (John Tuld) reminds us of how great an actor he is playing the head of the un-named company and Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) has the moral dilemma at the forefront of his day/night and plays it brilliantly. Paul Bettany is very believable as a Londoner working with the big boys on Wall Street and Penn Badgely plays Zachary Quinto’s junior work mate well, as always.
Thoroughly well supported by Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Mary McDonnell and Aasif Mandvi, all the actors here realise they are getting a chance to really act…on film. Clever dialogue, no histrionics, just great story-telling makes this an important film that deserves to be seen.

Margin Call was J.C.Chandor’s first film, as a director and writer on it he shows that he is a director to watch out for. A mark has been made.

Now do I really have to watch All is Lost?

4/5

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