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'A Most Violent Year' Captures You And Doesn't Let Go


We report next on "A Most Violent Year." That may well be one description of 2014. Though, we mean it a little differently here. "A Most Violent Year" is a new movie, reviewed here by Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "A Most Violent Year" is a vibrant crime story. It's filled with crackling situations, taunt dialogue and a heightened sense of reality. It captures us and it doesn't let go. Written and directed by J. C. Chandor, "A Most Violent Year" is set in 1981 and stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain as an intense Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth kind of married couple coming to grips with a chilly month from hell. Isaac is ideal for the role of upwardly-mobile businessman, Abel Morales, a man possessed by the American dream. He's impeccably tailored and wears his expensive camel's hair overcoat like a talisman indicating how far he's come and where he wants to go. He owns a Brooklyn-based heating oil company, and he tells the salesmen exactly how they should act in this tough business.


OSCAR ISAAC: (As Abel Morales) So when you look them in the eye, you have to believe that we are better, and we are. But you will never do anything as hard as staring someone straight in the eye and telling the truth.

TURAN: Abel has a tight bond with his wife, Anna, played by Chastain, a wised-up and ferocious woman whose mob-connected father sold the company to Abel. Despite that, Abel is determined not to cross the line into violence when business problems arise.


ISAAC: (As Abel Morales) Let me deal with it.

JESSICA CHASTAIN: (As Anna Morales) Oh, you better. You're not going to like what will happen once I get involved.

TURAN: One of the most satisfying things about "A Most Violent Year" is how many moving parts it contains, how many brushfires, like hijacked trucks and criminal investigations, Abel has to deal with, and how adroitly filmmaker Chandor orchestrates them all to achieve maximum dramatic tension. He makes Abel and Anna's strivings our own. And that's welcome news indeed.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and for The Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous audio introduction to this review mistakenly said A Most Violent Year was directed by Sidney Lumet. In fact, the movie was directed by J.C. Chandor. Lumet died in 2011. A Most Violent Year has been compared to some of Lumet's movies.
Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.