A Most Violent Year is another film from J.C. Chandor, whose previous efforts Margin Call and All Is Lost have already earned him a spot as an ambitious writer-director with a melancholic disposition. It stars Oscar Isaac from the equally melancholic Inside Llewyn Davis, who finds himself similarly poised in Hollywood. Both director and star are about mood and subtlety, which is leveraged to great effect in this slow-boiling crime drama thriller.
It's New York City 1981, the most dangerous year in the city's history, as we track an ambitious immigrant as he tries to protect his growing business and his family. A Most Violent Year echoes a young Robert De Niro, not only in the mob mentality and casting of Oscar Isaac, but in the gritty, naturalistic flow. It's like The Deer Hunter if it was set in the city, luring us in with an American Dream story set against the odds and background of a ruthless city of industry.
Oscar Isaac is more of a wallflower when it comes to your typical Hollywood lead. He's not in love with the camera and tends to downplay his performances, trading in nuances rather than home run smiles. He allows Jessica Chastain a strong supporting role as his wife, whose cantankerous flair and dolled up look draw more attention. Their uneasy chemistry and opposites attract head space make it a tense and unpredictable relationship. They're supported by David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola and Albert Brooks, underrated actors, who also buy into the slow-and-steady mode of A Most Violent Year.
The tone is subdued and everything about A Most Violent Year falls into this category. The sets, costumes and wardrobe as dull early '80s... the performances are downplayed... the lighting is dim and the pacing is staggered. It's almost like Chandor is trying to effect the film in 1981. While this attention to detail and authenticity adds a layer, it does take some getting used to and tends to drag the 125 minute run time.
"Babe... who do you think I am, Bugsy Malone?"
While the focus is on the drama within a world of corporate sabotage, there are a few sequences that break the slow-burn pace into a flurry of action. One car chase scene is particularly brilliant as we're given an immersive first person perspective on a take down.
A Most Violent Year's tension rests with Abel Morales, whose name serves as a strong hint at what he's all about. He sticks to his principles under mounting pressure and the duress of difficult circumstances. Central to his character is his moral fortitude and his stubborn unwillingness to be swayed by shortcuts and shady business deals. He's willing to risk everything as long as it doesn't tarnish his reputation as a reliable, dependable, trustworthy self-made man.
It's powerful at times, wrestling with mafia style saboteurs and a mystery as to who is behind the constant threat. As a character study, it's compelling... as a crime drama it's slow but sure-handed... and as a thriller, we're catapulted into action almost as suddenly as a Sergio Leone Western. It could have been set in the Wild West, but finds itself in 1981 with a There Will Be Blood temperament and a The Deer Hunter look and feel.
Spling reviews Mad Max: Fury Road, Child 44 and Barefoot as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a piston-pumping action extravaganza from George Miller, who has reinvigorated the Mad Max franchise. To find some humourous context, the director's previous films include Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two. Mad Max: Fury Road is the antithesis... burning with rage and fuming with eye-popping visuals from smoldering car wrecks to lonely desert vistas.
This is an epic film that packs a punch... grabbing you from the get-go and sinking its metal teeth into you like a rabid scrapyard dog. We're whipped from a hellish, post-apocalyptic community to a high speed cross-country chase where a band of innocents are being pursued by an evil tyrant.
The opening sequence is nightmarish, moving from a tribe of blood thirsty and hydrated desert pirates turned borderline zombies. Much like Frank Miller's 300, George Miller overpowers our senses with loud, primal action and surreal visuals that thrust us into a relentless action adventure.
As if the visuals weren't impressive enough, he's harnessed Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy as our reluctant heroes. Theron plays Furiosa, a battle-hardened one-armed driver whose quest to reach her green homeland propels her and a rig of precious cargo. She's desert cool, fearless in the face of imminent danger and willing to risk everything for her that mirage of freedom.
"Prepare to have your mind blown."
Hardy is the man with no name, a drifter whose motivations are unknown and whose freedom is paramount. He's pensive, constantly processing and always surprising us with his resilience and know-how. The two spur each other on in an uneasy co-dependent relationship of mutual assistance against a common enemy.
They're supported by Nicholas Hoult in a fascinating performance as Nux, a curious creature whose slithery trajectory is quite fascinating as he weaves in and out of the story. Hugh Keys-Byrne is Immortan Joe, a villain whose complex mix of power, evil and endurance will draw contrasts with Darth Vader and land him among the greatest villains of all-time. While we don't see his real mouth behind the mask, the larger-than-life character is ferocious and intimidating... the stuff of nightmares.
Mad Max: Fury Road detonates itself and lands in a shroud of diesel and dust. We're catapulted into a road movie where there aren't any roads and overwhelmed by a special effects freak show that blends Carmageddon carnage with an anti-Waterworld environment. The result is emotive, violent yet breathtaking, keeping the dopamine levels charged, while relaying a simple yet effective story within a surreal yet real world of its own.
The performances are subtle and grow with the film, the visual effects are spellbinding, the stunts are out-of-this-world cool and the direction is spot on... carrying the same relentless, primal tone. Mad Max: Fury Road happens adrift from the original series, which leaned more heavily on the world we know. While this new format dulls the razors of reality, Miller slides us into his dangerous world.
Mad Max: Fury Road is high octane adrenalin from start-to-finish... giving The Fast and the Furious a run for its money, blowing Waterworld out of the water, delivering cyberpunk wasteland tales in crates of bullets and composing a visually-rich cinematic epic by bludgeoning its audience in the face with a wild, violent, furious, majestic and insanely cool escape.
Spling reviews Chinatown, Excalibur and Sunset Boulevard, the 100th episode, as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.