If you were a gay man in NYC in 1981, a city far grittier and more dangerous than it is now, the news that probably caught your attention was the story in The New York Times about the discovery of the "rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals." But, as A Most Violent Year (A24/Participant), the new film from J.C. Chandor (director of Margin Call, starring out actor Zachary Quinto) indicates, the rest of New York had other things on its mind, including the regular hijacking and theft of tankers carrying heating oil and other petrol products.
Beginning with the commandeering of a truck at a toll booth, and the brutal assault of driver Julian (Elyes Gabel), A Most Violent Year focuses on what promises to be a potentially prosperous year for refinery owner Abel (Oscar Isaac), an immigrant trying to attain the American dream, and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain channeling Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle), the daughter of a Brooklyn gangster. Striking a deal with Hasidic businessman Josef (Jerry Adler) to purchase another refinery, Abel pays a portion of the purchase price with his life savings and then must come up with the rest from various sources in order to close the deal.
But that will be easier said than done as everything that can possibly go wrong does. Abel's business is under investigation by District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) who is in the process of bringing a case against the company. Abel's competitors, including Peter (Allesandro Nivolo), are as cutthroat as possible. Driver Julian goes missing after thwarting another hijacking by using an unregistered weapon. If that wasn't enough, the bank on which Abel was depending for a loan backs out of the deal.
A Most Violent Year is nothing if not a story of perseverance. There is violence and death (not to mention a high-speed truck chase) and corruption. But there is also honesty and dedication and the desire to help others (while helping yourself, of course). Filmmaker Chandor has become a master of suspense (see All Is Lost) and A Most Violent Year is no exception.