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Josh Reviews A Most Violent Year

In the ripping crime yarn A Most Violent Year, Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales, the owner of a Brooklyn-based oil company.  As the film opens, in 1981, Abel and his friend and attorney, Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks), have just secured a great deal: the purchase of an enormous fuel terminal near the East River which will give Abel an enormous leg up on his competitors.  But as Abel’s company has grown, so too have his troubles.  His oil trucks are being hijacked (likely at the hand of one of his competitors) costing him an enormous sum of money and problems with the Teamsters who represent his drivers, and his company is being investigated by the State government for criminal activities.  Abel’s wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), pushes Abel to fight violence with violence, but Abel has prided himself on not being a criminal like Anna’s father.  As Abel’s situation grows increasingly desperate, what will he be forced to do?


First of all, wow, who knew that Oscar Isaac would be in basically everything I’ve watched this month??  Mr. Isaac grabbed hold of my attention with both hands back when I first saw Inside Llewyn Davis (click here for my review), but in the past few weeks he has blown me away with his work in Show Me a Hero (click here for my review) and Ex Machina (click here for my review) and now A Most Violent Year.  (And, of course, Mr. Isaac also has a major role in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens!!)  Mr. Isaac’s power as an actor is demonstrated with full force with his tremendous work here in A Most Violent Year.  This is a movie-star performance.  This film rises because of Mr. Isaac’s commanding work, in pretty much every scene of the film.  Mr. Isaac has created a hugely compelling character in Abel, a smart and magnetic personality whose talent and charisma has taken him far from his humble immigrant origins… perhaps too far?  As I watched A Most Violent Year, I was captivated in wondering where the film, and Abel’s story, was going.  Would Abel prove to be the hero of the piece… or the villain?

A Most Violent Year was written and directed by J.C. Chandor.  I didn’t realize until after watching the film that Mr. Chandor had also written and directed the terrific 2013 film All is Lost, the near-silent movie starring Robert Redford, about a man alone at sea in escalatingly calamitous circumstances.  (Click here for my review.)  Wow, Mr. Chandor is clearly an enormous talent.  This is a filmmaker to whom I will be paying very close attention from now on!… [continued]

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Peril at Sea Double-Feature Part I: All is Lost

Last week I took in not one, but two intense stories featuring great peril at sea: All is Lost and Captain Phillips.

Today I am here to talk about All is Lost.  The film is a fascinating exercise in technique, as it depicts only one single human being on camera from start to finish: Robert Redford as the never-named protagonist.  The movie opens when Robert Redford’s character awakens aboard his small but nice boat, out at sea.  A Chinese shipping container has bumped up against Redford’s boat, puncturing the hull.  Mr Redford is able to extricate his boat from the lost shipping container, and quite ingeniously he is able to make a decent repair of the hole in his vessel.  But it turns out that the water that came into his boat through the hole has fried his computer and radio, and indeed all the boat’s electronics.  A terrible storm that comes a few days later takes his situation from bad to worst, and soon Mr. Redford’s character is in a desperate struggle for survival, alone at sea.

All is Lost is very well-crafted and extraordinarily well-directed.  The film is haunting in its austere beauty and intense, you-are-there no-frills realism.  I am very impressed by the work of writer/director J.C. Chandor (whose work I was unfamiliar with prior to seeing this film).  All is Lost is a bold undertaking of style and format, but while those aspects provide an intriguing hook for the film, the movie is more than just an interesting exercise.  It breathes as a complete, viscerally-affecting story.

All of that is because of the incredible skill of Robert Redford.  Mr. Redford is the reason to see this movie.  At 77 years of age, Mr. Redford is still an actor of tremendous skill, and this is a powerhouse of a performance.  Not only is he the only person on-screen for the entire run-time of the movie, but after a short opening monologue that we hear over blackness at the very start of the movie, there are less than ten lines of dialogue in the whole rest of the film.  The entire story of the movie plays almost completely over Mr. Redford’s face, and in his eyes.  It is wonderful.

One of the film’s stylistic quirks that I alluded to above is that the story starts at the exact moment that Mr. Redford’s character’s ordeal begins, and ends the moment that ordeal ends.  This is a very interesting approach.  By telling us nothing of Mr. Redford’s life before the accident that punctures a hole in his boat, the film keeps much of his character and his past a secret from us.  This focuses us in on the intense experience … [continued]