There has to be a sense of authenticity in a film. Authenticity is essential as conflict is in drama—it must be the essence of the film. Writer/director J.C Chandor’s third feature brings such essence up front this time, whereas in two of his previous directorial efforts (Margin Call, All Is Lost), authenticity was present, but took a back seat, I’m sure intentionally, to give himself the room as the filmmaker to flex not only his directorial prowess, but his writing as well. And that’s not a bad thing. What I mean here is that both Margin Call and All Is Lost, respectively, are Chandor’s official presentations to movie-going public, keeping in mind to attract the film aficionados. It’s an attitude that every filmmaker must possess and it must be part of his/her job, first and foremost. Chandor is slowly proving to us that he is indeed authentic in what he does, but here is the question: Is he already that great filmmaker?
If you ask me, it isn’t a difficult question to answer, for Chandor, especially the way he is, a strict filmmaker, can be said, he’s great in making films. Though, for Chandor to salute again the very cinema, he adores, he must present at least one great product again.
A Most Violent Year, his recent honest work passionately pays homage to 70s cinema, an era in which the great Francis Ford Coppola gave us the Godfather (1972). But, Chandor, as a writer/director eschews diving deep in saluting that great film, which is a cunning step, and I give him credit for it for one can get lost in someone else’s oeuvre. It is, at all-times, better to stick with your story and see where the characters take you, which brings me to the characters in this film as he has spent time on giving them the opportunity to play in this cold world that he has created. Both Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are relaxed, focused and they show what they are truly capable of in every scene. And, that’s acting. Just imagine two boxers in a ring. Chandor’s characters carry elemental roles here, and his actors are very much cognizant of that onus. You can feel their sense of respect for their roles.
And, when it comes to the look of the film, cinematographer, Bradford Young, whose work (Selma, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) I’m very fond of has painted what Chandor has envisioned. The film is a wide-angle piece, capturing, not only the characters, even the smoke from Jessica Chastain’s cigarette, for you can see clearly where it disappears in the air. The film has two chase sequences, both captured very well, but my favorite is when actor Elyes Gabel gets off the truck amidst heavy traffic, back to us, charging with a gun in hand while the score by Alex Ebert emphasizes, error-free, the authenticity of not just the film’s, but the very genre—creating tension, imposing the language of cinema. And, during this masterful sequence, don’t forget the expression on Gabel’s face. There’s brilliance in this short foot-chase.
Expressions are also the essential factor, I must say, as there are scenes consist of monologues with abrupt conclusions giving room to the silences afterwards that we must deal with—providing the opportunity so we, with no hesitation whatsoever, can just stare at the characters staring at each other. That’s what makes a film like this a fun-film-watching-experience. A sense of calm gives one enough time to grasp the atmosphere—feel and sense the air characters are breathing.
Chandor’s A Most Violent Year is such a cinematic feast. He has played quite well with it. It is his promise to that greatest title that I’m sure is in the making. Every filmmaker, in my opinion, owns his/her greatest, for every filmmaker should. Chandor is on track to be one of the important filmmakers, but he already is great in making films, as I noted earlier. The difference is that being important is much essential than being just great at what you do.