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Inside Abel Morales And A Most Violent Year

Updated on April 2, 2015

Abel Morales likes to tell himself he's living the American dream. However, as he grows his business, forces conspire to take that business from him. At the beginning of A Most Violent Year, which is set in 1981 New York, Abel (Oscar Isaac) has just put down a payment to secure an adjacent property. Once a deal is brokered, Abel starts to experience signs of trouble. His drivers have been targeted for hijacking, including Julian (Elyes Gabel), who is forced from his truck at gunpoint by two men, who also beat him and put him in the hospital. Just after he and his wife and bookkeeper Anna (Jessica Chastain) move into their expensive new home, they get a middle-of-the-night visit from another would-be assailant, whom Abel chases from the home. One of his daughters, though, finds the loaded gun the man had dropped the next day. A visit to the district attorney's office to report his problems brings more bad news. Lawrence (David Oyelowo), the lawyer hired to oversee Abel and others in the heating oil business, seeks to prosecute Abel for business actions Lawrence believes are illiegal.

Julian soon returns to work, but the hijacking incident leaves him more shaken than he's willing to admit to Abel. Even though Abel gives his man a relatively easy assignment, Julian is again accosted by the same pair he'd encountered previously. This time, though, he responds by confronting the pair and shooting at them. In time, Julian gets arrested for using the gun, and is taken to the police by Abel and his legal counsel, Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks). Just before the meet, Andrew tells Julian he's been fired, but Abel decides to run instead of surrender. The incident also jeopardizes Abel's expansion, for his bank will not grant him the loan to complete his purchase. Meanwhile, the hijackers continue their business until they do it when Abel is in the vicinity of a job. He pursues the truck until it crashes and kills one of the thieves. Abel then pursues the other man on foot, who tells him where the oil has been going. Abel makes some deals to get some of the funds, and discusses getting the balance from Peter Forente (Alessandro Nivola), who seems a bit hesitant about making a deal. As the deadline to complete the deal nears, Anna shares her findings about the company books.

A Most Violent Year is an engrossing drama from writer-director J. C. Chandor, whose previous effort found Robert Redford adrift at sea in All Is Lost. In A Most Violent Year, Chandor presents a number of characters who aren't all good or all bad. They are just people who create a definition of honesty or dishonesty to suit their purposes. Abel, for example, calls himself an honest businessman, yet Lawrence has his sights on Abel's company. Abel's plans also include forcing a competitor to close his doors, though not through the robbery or violence his company has experienced. The movie's title is a bit of a misnomer, since most of the violence involves fighting and pistol whipping, none of which results in a body count. A couple of story inconsistencies would have made the movie shorter, one of which involves the beating of a sales rep lured into a trap in an area not heavily serviced by Abel's company. Some have compared this work to the sorts of films Sidney Lumet made - and I can see that. The Lumet film that comes to mind was his 1981 film Prince Of The City, where a cop who agrees to expose wrongdoing in his ranks has plenty of wrongs in his actions. Abel, like that cop, tries to do right, though wrongdoing by himself and others threatens to sink him.

Isaac made an impression on me with his performance as a struggling folk singer in Inside Llewyn Davis, and impresses again as Abel, a man who must deal with unexpected adversity so that he can remain in business and out of legal trouble. His strength is salesmanship, as he shows a trio of new hires how to deal with customers. He knows he can't offer the best prices, so he knows he has to convince customers that their service compensates the higher cost. Chastain, as Anna, feels the need to be stronger than she perceives her husband. She shows her tough upbringing with her domestic and bookkeeping ways. Brooks shows discretion, even when not necessary, as Abel's trusted counsel Andrew. Oyelowo is great as Lawrence, who, like Abel, has ambition, and sees a bright future ahead.

A Most Violent Year, in addition to being a very effective drama, makes me wonder if Abel Morales, were he real, would still be in business in 2015, or would he pass it on to his family, or lose everything to a competitor even more ambitious than he. The movie not only shows the dirty truth behind a man who believes he runs an honest business, but it also takes a cynical look at the legal forces who are entrusted to uphold the law. Anybody in Abel's corner seems to be there for a price. They may have some concern for the man himself, but they have a greater interest in the profit margin he can provide.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give A Most Violent Year 3.5 stars. Taking care of business the hard way.


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