Year Released: 2014
Directed by: J. C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks
(R, 110 min.)
Genre: Drama, Action and Adventure
“You must take the path that is most right.” Abel Morales
Despite its title, this character-driven crime drama packs its menace in quiet conversations, camel’s hair coats, and the kind of self-control only known to alpha males.
Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) has the same good looks, tailored suits and ethical dilemmas as Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, but he isn’t a member of the mob.
Well, not exactly. He’s only married into one of its lesser Brooklyn branches via his tough broad wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain). And he’s bought out the family heating oil delivery business from her father. But Abel, a Columbian immigrant, is very much his own man, even in the mean streets of New York city in 1981, statistically the most violent year in its hstory.
Oh, there are hints of the usual ways of doing business, a little rigging of the scales here and there, some underreporting of income, but that’s about it. It is enough, however, for New York’s ambitious Assistant D.A. (David Oyelowo) to watch his every move in order to build a fraud case.
One of the film’s compelling ingredients is its purposeful ambiguity about Abel’s involvement in any law breaking. Anna keeps the books for the family operation. When we see her punching out the numbers on an old style calculator, pencil in one hand, a cigarette in the other, the smoke that envelopes her has a deeper meaning. Those books may not fare so well in the light of day.
Are we hearing the whole truth when she has an exchange with Assistant D.A. Lawrence as he interrupts her 10-year-old’s birthday party with a search warrant?
Anna Morales: “My husband’s an honorable man. We’re not who you think we are.”
Lawrence: “I think I know your father.”
Anna Morales: “Good for you. My husband is not my father, not even close.”
It is a purposeful reminder of the “I am not my father” line from Michael Corleone in the beginning of The Godfather.
Of course, the audience is also aware that Anna is playing for time so Abel can hide several boxes of files under that house. Again, we have the ambivalence. It’s not that they are incriminating, exactly, Anna says. It’s just that she wants to go through them first before the authorities do.
If only that were Abel’s only worry. The DA has scared off his banker and now he has to raise a million and a half in cash or lose the 40 percent he has already put down some new property. In three days time.
And someone is systematically way laying his delivery trucks and siphoning off their fuel. The meticulous Abel scolds the police officer who has found his abandoned rig. Has he even checked to see if there is any oil left? Abel climbs aboard with an athletic grace that reminds us of his early days as an oil driver himself, peers into the tank, and without missing a beat, calculates the precise amount of oil missing and its exact worth in dollars and cents.
There’s that same shrewd attention to detail as he instructs his salesman. If the homeowners offer refreshments, always choose the one that takes more time or effort, he schools them. Tea over coffee, lemonade over water. They are to show themselves as their product, as a step above.
Different Drummer is not the only critic to see Anna as “a borderline Lady Macbeth,” when she taunts Abel to arm himself and his drivers. However, his is not Macbeth’s over eager “vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself.” Abel does not succumb to Anna’s proposals and has a code he will not break.
It is most of all a realist’s code. Like the era, business, and city he lives in, it may not run straight, but it is true.
You should know that I have always taken the path that is most right. The result is never in question for me. Just what path do you take to get there? And that is what this is.
It is not the code but the man behind it who captivates us. A Most Violent Year is an ethical dilemma that somehow keeps us on the edge of our seats without resorting to any cheap thrills.
Enjoy this fine character study that earns its audiences the old fashioned way.
Despite their move into a luxurious Westchester house, all glass panels and light, Anna still sits at her desk, pencil in hand, running the family books.
Somehow, I think, this Italian girl from the Bronx still does a lot of her own cooking, too. We can easily imagine her putting together this Classic Italian Comfort Food: Sausage Pepper Potato Bake.
Can you smell it yet?
Sausage Pepper Potato Bake
Original recipe makes 8 servings
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 pounds Italian sausage links, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
4 large potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
2 large green bell peppers, seeded and cut into wedges
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and cut into wedges
3 large onions, cut into wedges
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and cook and stir the sausage until browned. Transfer the cooked sausage to a large baking dish. Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil into the skillet, and cook the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Place the potatoes into the baking dish, leaving some oil. Cook and stir the green and red peppers and onions in the hot skillet until they are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the vegetables to the baking dish. Pour wine and chicken stock over the vegetables and sausage, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Gently stir the sausage, potatoes, and vegetables together.
Bake in the preheated oven until hot and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.