A Most Violent Year is the same old story of human nature’s questionable moral compass, but it’s still a tense crime drama that will grip you like a slowly tightening noose.

In New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically one of the most violent years in the city’s history, an immigrant and his family try to expand their business and capitalize on opportunities as the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built.

A Most Violent Year is slow, but never dull for those who are looking for a different crime drama.

The plot moves at a deliberately slow pace and reveals just enough information to keep you hanging, maintaining tension throughout the film. This also provides ample time for the characters to develop.

Abel is no doubt a self-assured and self-made businessman, but even he doesn’t know everything as his principles struggle against his problems – will his moral compass stay fixed or sway with the nefarious times?

The cinematography and production design gives an authentic feel of the film’s world – wide screen images filled with period detail, from filing cabinets to an ungentrified New York.

The cast delivers great performances with Oscar Isaac proving he is one of the best actors as of the moment. Jessica Chastain is everywhere these days, but she manages to make an impact in each of her roles. Albert Brooks is physically unrecognizable and convincing. Elyes Gabel is getting more gigs post-GOT and he deserves it. David Oyelowo is also great as a character that you’ll likely underestimate until the end.

While A Most Violent Year stands out from most crime dramas, it’s not that thematically different from its peers in the genre. There are plenty of characters who have navigated morally grey areas while entrenched in broken systems.

Anna’s character isn’t common, but it would have been better if she was given a bit more depth rather than resorting to the famous shortcut of having a character kill an animal to show that (s)he’s bad.

Still, A Most Violent Year is well executed enough to make something that sounds familiar feel new. It may not have enough action for mainstream audiences or depressing drama to ping Oscar’s radar, but its still an engrossing and thought provoking film.

My Rating: 8/10

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