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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: A Most Violent Year

April 19th, 2015

A Most Violent Year - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

A Most Violent Year came out last Awards Season and earned some serious pre-release buzz. After all, it stars Jessica Chastain. She's only been acting four roughly five years since she made Jolene, but since then, five of her previous films have earned some measure of Awards Season Buzz. Unfortunately, nothing really came from that buzz and the film wasn't able to expand truly wide. Did it deserve better? Or is the term "Busted Oscar-bait" applicable?

The Movie

We are introduced to the Morales family, led by Abel and Anna. They run the Standard Heating Oil Company, which has been struggling for cash, in part due to numerous robberies of their trucks. (We witness one such attack against one of their drivers during the opening credits.) There is another reason they are struggling for cash; they are expanding. They are buying an oil terminal, which would not only save them money in the long run, but expand their capacity enough to muscle out their competitor. The person they are buying from, Josef Mendellsohn, is hesitant to sell the property to him, not because Josef isn't getting a good deal, but because he knows this deal will stretch Abel's finances.

After Abel and his lawyer, Andrew Walsh, finalize the deal, Abel goes to the hospital where his driver, Julian, is. Anna is already there and she wants to talk to her brother about this. It is clear that Anna thinks they need to fight back, but Abel wants to do everything above the books as much as possible.

There is a reason Abel wants to avoid any legal problems. He has the D.A. on him. A.D.A. Lawrence has been investigating Standard Heating Oil Company, and the competition, for years. Collusion in regards to price-fixing is the main charge, but not the only one. Abel goes with Andrew to the A.D.A. in hopes that his cooperation throughout the investigation would be enough for him to look into these truck hijackings closer. Perhaps the investigation has turned up evidence against one of his competitors. Not only does Lawrence have nothing to help Abel, but he tells him he's going forward with pressing charges against his company next week. This is doubly bad for Abel. Not only is he not getting the information he had hoped for, but the bad publicity caused by being charged could scare off the bank that he had been borrowing money from. If that were to happen, he would lose the contract for the property, including the massive deposit he just put down.

Unfortunately, Abel's problems come closer to home in ways I'm not comfortable talking about. We're definitely heading too deep into spoiler territory with what happens next.

A Most Violent Year earned 90% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I now realize that this created unrealistic expectations. A Most Violent Year is merely a good movie. There is real drama here and the acting is excellent, especially from Jessica Chastain, but also Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, and others. Unfortunately, the tension didn't build like it should have. The movie lacked a certain energy to make the stakes seem serious. Abel, as a character, was always trying to remain cool and in control. This is likely very good for keeping his business afloat when times were stressful, but it was a barrier to amping up the drama and getting me truly engaged.

That's not to say A Most Violent Year is a bad movie. It just didn't live up to the hype, in my opinion. If the film's Tomatometer Score was 80% positive, I wouldn't have been disappointed.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary track with the writer / director, J.C. Chandor, as well as two of the producers, Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb. Behind the Violence is a two-part, 44-minute making of featurette. There are three short interview clips with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac with a combined running time of close to 13 minutes. There is a 90-second PSA on the prevention of violence, while there is also a three-minute interview with one of the leaders of the Cure Violence organization. It is only tangentially related to the movie. Finally, there are five deleted scenes.

The video looks a little soft and the colors are on the yellow side. However, a lot of this is due to aesthetic choices. It still doesn't look great, especially in darker scenes, but for the most part, it is still good. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. There's ambient sounds in the surround sound speakers, but no real dynamic effects. Then again, this is common for dramas.

The Blu-ray costs just $15, which is $2 or 14% more than the DVD. That's an excellent deal.

The Verdict

High expectations hurt A Most Violent Year. It is a great movie and the DVD or Blu-ray is worth picking up, but it is not Oscar-worthy and I was expecting Oscar-worthy.

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Filed under: Video Review, A Most Violent Year, Jerry Adler, Albert Brooks, Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, J.C. Chandor, David Oyelowo, Neal Dodson, Elyes Gabel, Anna Gerb