Movie Review: A Most Violent Year

Movie Review: A Most Violent Year

Success despite racial limitation

By Mark HadleyWednesday 25 Feb 2015MoviesReading Time: 3 minutes

The opening scenes of A Most Violent Year set the theme for the entire film – a youngish Spanish-American figure clad in sports gear, running with determination through an impoverished neighbourhood and closed-down business district towards his wealthy home. It’s a miniature of striving for success in the face of racial and social limitations. The question is, will the film’s hero be able to win that race? Not without leaving something of himself along the way it seems.

Movie Review: A Most Violent Year 
A Most Violent Year is set in New York in 1981, a period during which that city suffered more rapes and murders than any other time on record. Oscar Isaac plays businessman Abel Morales, a rags-to-riches story in the heating oil industry. The foundations of his winning strategy are fair prices and superior service, and it’s gained him an ever-increasing share of his city’s customers. In a market characterized by wide-spread rorting and theft, Abel vows to always operate within the law. It will be difficult, he tells his sales staff – 

“You will never do something harder than staring someone straight in the eye and telling them the truth.”

– but Abel believes it’s the only path to lasting success. However 1981 is not just a dark year for New York. Abel is under indictment by the District Attorney’s office on charges of corruption. His attempt to buy a property key to his success has placed him on the brink of financial ruin. His sales team are being kidnapped and bashed, and violent gunmen are hi-jacking his oil supplies, one truck at a time. The question A Most Violent Year poses is obvious: does righteousness really reward in the tough times?

This is a topic the Bible has a great deal to say about, particularly in the book of Proverbs where wise men warn that ‘dishonest scales’ are abhorrent to God, but honesty is a sure path to His good graces:

“A faithful man will have many blessings, but one in a hurry to get rich will not go unpunished.”  

Yet, in all honesty, it’s hard to look out on the world around us, the world of A Most Violent Year, and come to the same conclusion. Abel learns that though he might strive to do the right thing, in the end he has to be satisfied with doing the best he can – and you could drive an oil truck between the difference. By the end of the film he’s offering this advice to someone overcome with the bad decisions he’s made:

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“You’re looking backward. You’ve got to look forward. It’s the only thing you can control.”

That philosophy is offered as a justification for a life that might not be able to fully account for its past but is at least facing in the right direction. However, as good as that reads, it still sounds hollow coming from Abel’s mouth. 

By the end of the film it’s clear that Abel has lost something of himself along the way – not because he’s broken the law, but because he’s made gain his god. ‘Dedication’ has become an excuse for abandoning his fellow man. The writers of the film and Proverbs would both probably agree that though the wicked seem to prosper and the faithful man falls short, Abel isn’t looking far enough forward. Of course the scriptwriters have in mind his damaged character but the Bible knows Abel’s race doesn’t end at the grave. God, who knows all the shortcuts we take, will still punish every cut corner. Yet many blessings remain for anyone who places their faith in Him.

Rating: MA15+
Distributor: Roadshow
Release Date: February 26