(J.C. Chandor, USA, 2014)
Earnest and somber to a fault. Chandor is a talented screenwriter, and as a director he has a feel both for performance and space, but A Most Violent Year doesn't go beyond handsome workmanship. The operative qualities on display are seriousness and restraint, but these means, however admirable, do not equate to worthy ends. Chandor wants us to share in his rueful view of the vagaries of modern capitalism, where a lucky, committed few find stupendous success and the rest must toil for scraps. And while I agree with his perspective, and I commend his care and focus as a director, I can't admire this latest film. Margin Call had the hermetic intensity of a great play; as cinema it was passable, but it hummed with righteous anger. Here, Chandor checks his anger in favor of tragedy, but it's a halfhearted, muted tragedy, heavy on portentousness but almost completely absent of true pathos. Even his cynicism is more of a gesture than a deeply felt stance. His obvious touchstones are the moral dramas of the 1970s, but his reverence has ossified into nostalgia. And where the badge of authenticity in the glorious 70s was "grit," every image A Most Violent Year is burnished and clean. Although there's not a drug to be found in the movie, it feels as if everything were taking place in an opioid haze. The performers are excellent and committed, but they're limited by Chandor's hard, schematic vision, like insects trapped in amber.