A Most Violent Year Action

'A Most Violent Year' Blu-ray Review: The American Dream goes noir

April 9, 2015Ben MK

Official Studio Synopsis: New York City, 1981. The most crime-ridden of the city's history. A Most Violent Year follows Abel (Oscar Isaac) and his wife (Jessica Chastain) during a crucial moment of their lives as they attempt to pursue the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption threaten to destroy their burgeoning empire.

Distributor: Elevation Pictures
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
Format: Blu-ray/DVD
Video: 1080p HD, 2.40
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Fran├žais Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Run Time: 2 Hr. 05 Mins.
Feature Rating:  

The year was 1972, and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather had moviegoers captivated with its take on the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of an Italian-American crime family. Fast forward 43 years, and writer/director J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year — set in 1981, a record-setting year for crime in New York City — finds itself treading in familiar territory.

Its main protagonist is Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a Columbian-born businessman out to make a name for himself in the Big Apple's ultra-competitive heating oil industry. Keen on expanding his company, Standard Heating Oil, Abel has just put down a massive downpayment on a strategically-located waterfront industrial lot when he encounters a series of snags and obstacles. Not only are his salesmen being brutally beaten and his transport trucks being routinely being hijacked at gunpoint, but he and his wife and business partner, Anna (Jessica Chastain), have also become the targets of a go-getter District Attorney named Lawrence (David Oyelowo), whose ongoing investigation into their business practices threatens to derail his ambitions and destroy everything he's worked for.

Yes, A Most Violent Year has all the makings of a gripping crime-drama. But despite its title, the movie’s quota of action is surprisingly low. A riveting opening sequence, a tense daylight shootout and a couple of white-knuckle foot chases are essentially all that's offered up here, leaving the remainder of the film’s two-hour run time to be occupied by brooding scenes of dialogue and steadily-paced exposition. Still, it all proves thoroughly engrossing, thanks primarily to Isaac and Chastain, whose enigmatic on-screen pairing makes for some delicious drama. Throw in smaller parts for actors like Albert Brooks and Alessandro Nivola — as well as a subplot that doesn't end well for one of Abel's embattled truck drivers (Elyes Gabel) — and you'll find the movie's absolutely dripping with it.

Audio/Visual Rating:  

A Most Violent Year makes its transition to Blu-ray with an impressive hi-def transfer, full of crisp detail, robust hues and sharp contrast. In short, it's completely faithful to its theatrical presentation, whether we're talking about how the red of Anna's lipstick pops against cinematographer Bradford Young's otherwise muted color palette, how the fuzz on Abel's camel hair coat is often plainly visible, or how effective the use of light and shadow is in helping to set the film's noir tone. The visuals are paired with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack; and though the movie's soundstage is largely bereft of action — save for a handful of gunshots and a few sudden impacts — everything is presented with the utmost clarity, from ambient street noises, to dialogue, to composer Alex Ebert's evocative, slow-burning score.

Extras Rating:  

Elevation Pictures' two-disc combo release includes a DVD copy of the movie, as well as the following Blu-ray special features:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director J.C. Chandor and Producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb - In this feature-length commentary track, the filmmakers discuss various aspects of the movie, from its production design, cinematography and shooting locations to the performances, themes and narrative style.
  • Behind the Violence (44:00) - An insightful, two-part making-of documentary featuring cast and crew interviews, film clips and production photos. In Part 1, Chandor, Dodson, Gerb and the actors discuss the story, the subject matter and the cast; and in Part 2, they discuss shooting the film in one of the coldest Winters in New York’s history, the influence of The Godfather and the work of production designer John P. Goldsmith, cinematographer Bradford Young and costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone.
  • A Conversation with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac (12:55) - Split into three short segments (“The Early Years,” “A Shared Foundation” and “Mastering the Craft”), this feature has Chastain and Isaac chatting not only about their on-screen collaboration, but also about their early acting inspirations, their experiences at Juilliard and their first auditions.
  • We Can Cure Violence (1:32) - An anti-violence PSA for takepart.com.
  • The Contagious Nature of Violence: The Origins of A Most Violent Year (3:10) - Chandor and the founder and executive director of Cure Violence, Gary Slutkin, discuss the origins of the movie and the role of Cure Violence in stopping the spread of violence in society.
  • Deleted Scenes (7:44) - A total of five scenes (“A Toast,” “Boombox,” “I’m Not a Felon,” “Spoiled Little Brat” and “Welcome to the Neighborhood”) are included, playable either individually or as a group.
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:28)
  • Teaser Trailer (1:23)
  • Inner City Crew (1:20) - The film crew joins Isaac for his morning jog, in this outtake from the film’s opening scene.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on January 30th, 2015.

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