A Star Is Born in A Most Violent Year
Leading man Oscar Isaac recalls 'young Al Pacino'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2015 12:14 PM CST

(Newser) A Most Violent Year is setting the bar high for movies in 2015. The flick, set in crime-riddled New York City in 1981 and starring Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, and Albert Brooks, has a 91% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Here's what they're saying:

  • Portraying a heating-oil dealer facing a criminal investigation, Isaac "recalls, without mimicry, the young Al Pacino," Joe Morgenstern writes at the Wall Street Journal. Director JC Chandor "gives Mr. Isaac everything he needs for a tour de force performance, and the actor makes the most of what he gets." The film itself is "ambitious," though it "suffers from a silly ending."
  • This "period drama about the American dream-gone-sour" builds slowly, Chris Nashawaty writes at Entertainment Weekly. But "it's the kind of uncompromising movie we don't see much of anymore. And it makes you nostalgic for a time when the world was worse and the movies were better." Chastain's character is a bit cliche as "the ferociously driven Lady Macbeth wife," Nashawaty writes, but Chastain adds "unexpected layers and a fresh twist."

  • A Most Violent Year is "a revelation: meticulously constructed, brilliantly acted, suspenseful, and sharply written," writes Claudia Puig at USA Today. Issac and Chastain "give career-topping performances," though "the entire cast is at the top of its game." And "kudos to Chandor for writing a lead female character as intriguing as his lead male, something far too rare in tough thrillers."
  • To put a damper on this parade, Stephanie Zacharek at Village Voice finds the flick "really just sort of ... dumb." She argues it "isn't nearly as compelling" as Chandor's previous work. "It's as if he set out to make The Godfather, only with heating oil. But from scene to scene, the stakes never mount." A Most Violent Year "burns slow and gives off very little heat. It's not really that violent. But it sure feels like a year."