But not the most violent movie

A Most Violent Year is a broad, sometimes ambiguous morality play. It is enacted like dominoes. The film is resistant to beatings, shootings, and even financial crime – until it no longer can be.

Often, these movies are paralyzed by their use of vitriol and fear. An Italian immigrant, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a business owner of a growing fuel and heating company, is a money-smart tactician. He resists the cliché. It costs him.

Aiding this feature are unclear lines of corruption. Doubt is heavy throughout. Under investigation, Morales panics. He hides files during a warrant search and uncontrollably sweats at the possibility of being caught. His violations only follow those of his competitors. Morales wants to be clean, to do things right. A Most Violent Year won’t let him. Escalation introduces the violence. People lash out. They run in fear of being caught.

Much of A Most Violent Year is brooding. It’s often quiet. Fleeting moments of action, more of a natural release than spectacle, puncture the mood. Loudly, too. Sound design is minute, but adjusts aggressively.

Between the seams is a motivated process of delivering information. This story adores being abstract, filling in details and developments later, afterward rather than during. J.C. Chandor’s writing work can draw confusion, but in broader scope, feels logical. Characters act and speak in a way which rarely reveals the fiction. They never explain, only do.

To push it along faster would be a means of sacrificing patience at the expense of narrative.

This is not a story of guns or beatings, although it has those. It is a movie of transformation and progression, fighting not for blood, but morals. Themes of integrity and principals run through A Most Violent Year’s veins. Delivery of its message is succinct, but not rushed. Camera work is plodding, even static. Such a story must be set within the crime-riddled 1981 New York; much of the style recalls a more patient method of filmmaking accurate to the era. Now it’s considered slow. Unfortunate, considering how serene it can be.

And really, most of A Most Violent Year is gentle, even forgiving. Mournful too. To push it along faster would be a means of sacrificing patience at the expense of narrative. Holding on to a false sense of control longer makes unavoidable spurts of unwanted violence repulsive. That’s the point. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Flesh tones moving to orange @ 15:27

A Most Violent Year tries to avoid any spectacle. Visual style is watered down with dry black levels and pale sepia tones thrown on every scene. There is no relief, as if A Most Violent Year was pushed through an Instagram filter rather than carefully adjusted in post. IRE levels feel inaccurate instead of producing a workable style.

Flesh tones are forcibly skewed orange. In terms of color, they may offer the only one. Images are teetering on monochromatic. It’s not particularly appealing. Contrast is completely washed away by this dilution of color.

Digital cinematgraphy is softened. Sharpness is typically avoided. The attempt to create everything on a faux vintage slant is not subtle or natural. Banding becomes bothersome if subtle enough to avoid most eyes.

Moments of fidelity, generally restricted due to low levels of light, are sparse. Close-ups are dulled. Details are held to exterior or establishing shots where sunlight can actually offer some help. Some of the shots of New York (with special effects creating the older skyline) are quite dazzling. Lionsgate’s encode contains outstanding bitrates – bettering even major blockbusters – but it’s for a rather distractingly pale production. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

Work on the DTS-HD side is an improvement over video, with wild dynamic range accentuating (heavily) gunshots. Jessica Chastain fires a few rounds roadside during a critical character moment which rise well over any scene prior. A small freeway shoot-out is also peppy.

Effective is a word which sums up the audio design, continually moving well throughout the sound field and panning effects to the proper channel. When needed, A Most Violent Year creates New York, with trains moving through the speakers or the ambiance of a subway. Everything is given a position worth noting. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Writer/Director JC Chandor pairs with producers Neil Dodson and Anna Gerb for commentary, beginning a slate of bonuses worth the time. Behind the Violence expands beyond usual making-ofs, running 44-minutes as it explores themes, patterns, and decisions which make the film unique. While somewhat overstuffed with finished clips (true of all these bonuses, actually), this is interesting material.

Stars Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac sit down for a brief three-part conversation, discussing their careers and roles. There’s no play all and these are shot at a few minutes. The Contagious Nature of Violence brings in Chandor again, sitting him down with the director of a group called Cure for Violence. It’s also short at only three minutes. Five deleted scenes stretch to nearly eight minutes, and an anti-violence PSA is the finisher. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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