Film: A Most Violent Year

Anna: My husband is not my father. Not even close. So if I were you, I would start treating us with a little more respect or I guarantee he will make it his mission in life to ruin you. This was very disrespectful.

A Most Violent Year is a 2014 American crime drama, directed by J.C. Chandor.

The year is 1981, already one of the most violent on record in New York City history. Relative to the abundance of murders, rapes, and robberies taking place in the city every day, the problems facing up-and-coming businessman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) seem relatively minor — his company is growing steadily and he's negotiating a difficult deal for an oil terminal that will allow him to expand his business considerably. But when an unknown competitor starts hijacking his trucks at gunpoint, making off with thousands of dollars worth of oil, his problems get considerably bigger. Abel struggles to keep his business afloat in the face of legal troubles and an increasing number of hijackings, as the head of the NYC Teamsters pressures him to arm his fleet of drivers, and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) grapples with her concerns for her family and her future.


This movie provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Abel defends himself with a bat against a would-be home invasion while his family sleeps, pursuing one guy and chasing him off into the snow; he half-heartedly reassures Anna that they were just young punks and no real threat, but is clearly shaken and paranoid as a result. Later Anna finds their two young daughters playing with a loaded gun they found in the front yard. Chastain's performance immediately communicates Anna's absolute horror.
  • American Dream: (A Discussed Trope courtesy of Anna.) Through his business acumen Abel has managed to acquire Anna's father's company and lend it legitimacy; in the process he has acquired a beautiful new house, a beautiful wife, and 2.5 adoring and adorable daughters along with all the outward markers of financial success. But the prosperity he enjoys isn't enough for him, and the fear of losing what he does have to complacency and the predations of his competitors is pressing.
    • When it comes to Julian, this overlaps with Hard Work Fallacy — Abel would like to believe his success (relative to Julian's difficulties) is due to his own hard work and moral rigor, but he's clearly benefited to some degree from his criminal connections via his wife and the force of his personality.
  • Ate His Gun: A distraught Julian shoots himself in front of Abel and Anna.
  • Behind Every Great Man: Anna manages all of Abel's personal accounts and is a shrewd businesswoman herself. This ultimately saves his skin in the shipping terminal deal, as she's been skimming enough money from his accounts and setting it aside over the years to cover what his loans cannot. Abel isn't pleased at her secrecy; she isn't pleased that he's been taking the credit for her hard work over the years.
  • Benevolent Boss: Morales positions himself as one of these, which means he takes the numerous attacks on his delivery truck drivers and sales representatives very personally.
  • Break the Cutie: Up-and-coming, fresh-faced Julian is brutally beaten and hospitalized in the course of doing his job. When he expresses his fears of a second hijacking to his employer, Morales reassures him and sends him on his way — only for a repeat performance to indeed occur on the road in broad daylight. But this time, Julian is armed as well, resulting in a shoot-out on the Queensboro Bridge that puts Julian on the wrong side of the law from his employer. He loses his job, is driven from his home, and eventually shoots himself.
  • Determinator: Abel is an aggressive, serious-minded businessman who's determined to close on the oil terminal deal and to succeed as the better-quality option relative to his crooked competitors. Faced with the indifference of law enforcement, he ends up hunting down hijackers himself and eventually delivering an ice-cold ultimatum to those responsible.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Whatever else Abel may be, he is loath to equip his fleet of drivers with guns, due to the possible legal repercussions which he cannot afford.
  • Fake Nationality: Elyes Gabel, who plays Julian, is a mixed-race English actor playing an American Latino of unspecified national background.
  • Femme Fatale: Toyed with. Anna very much looks the part, with the opulent wardrobe, killer manicure, and dark personal secrets to suit. But she's a (relatively) happily married woman who relies very little on sex appeal to intimidate — her actual role is more like The Consigliere.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: A relatively light shade thereof, for a crime drama; despite the title, the film's not especially gruesome. Abel is a more decent man than his competitors, but he's not above the sketchy dealings that are endemic to his industry. His closest allies are also sketchy at best.
  • Hide the Evidence: The police show up to search the premises during the middle of a child's birthday party. Anna and Abel excuse themselves to say goodbye to their guests, then scramble to hide file-boxes of tax records underneath their back porch.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Abel personally pursues and beats a would-be hijacker, shocking bystanders. He manages to extract from him the possible location of whoever's been stealing the oil, but he still can't bring himself to harm him badly. In a more general sense, Abel seems to resist the use of violence as a matter of principle relative to his old school kneecap-breaking rivals in business.
  • Inspector Javert: Assistant DA Lawrence (played by David Oyolewo) who pursues Standard Oil and its competitors alike for a variety of offenses they've committed in the course of doing business — price fixing, tax evasion, and the like.
  • Lady Macbeth: Anna is more than ready to step up and supply the gangsterism her husband seeks to avoid; she's the first to suggest resorting to threats, and is capable of ruthlessness even where her husband is not.
  • Little Useless Gun: Abel furiously derides the small handgun carried by Anna in her handbag — earning himself a slap in the face.
    Abel: "You know who uses guns like this? Whores!"
  • Mafia Princess: Anna's father was a gangster whose reputation seems to precede him. Her background seems to have influenced her negotiation style considerably.
  • Mama Bear: Anna. Go after her husband, and you'll regret it. Go after her kids, and God help you.
  • Meaningful Name: Abel Morales. Fittingly, he positions himself as the lesser of two evils compared to his competitors.
  • Morality Pet: Julian, to Abel. Abel has a rather paternal demeanor toward all his employees, and responds protectively after Julian is badly beaten and traumatized during a hijacking. This lasts only until Julian pulls his gun on another set of would-be hijackers and then flees the scene, putting himself beyond the reach of Abel's protection and alienating himself from his employer permanently and fatally.
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: Cutting Julian loose after the shootout on the bridge. If Abel had kept him around, he'd have endangered the terminal deal further and put himself in the distinctly unlawful position of protecting a fugitive — but firing him and turning him over to the hands of the police ultimately shatters Julian's already fragile mental health, resulting in his death. Given Abel's motto of always doing the most right thing, this possibility seems to weigh heavily on him.
  • Pink Mist: The more conventional Gory Discretion Shot of blood splattered on the wall of an oil tank, mingled with a stream of leaking oil, is preceded by a much more gruesome view of Julian's brains getting blown out in lots of little pieces.
  • Race Against the Clock: Abel has 30 days to secure $1.5 million to purchase the shipping terminal. He very nearly fails, due to Julian's breakdown and the charges leveled against his company.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Abel Morales is always dressed impeccably well.
  • Scenery Gorn: The cinematography is achingly gorgeous. The graffiti-coated, decaying landscape of early 80s NY is not.
  • Shoot the Dog: At one point, driving after dark, Morales strikes a deer with his car. Anna insists he puts the animal out of its misery with a tire iron. When he can't finish the job, Anna puts a bullet in its head.
  • Smoking Is Glamorous: Anna Morales is a drop-dead-gorgeous smoker.
  • Was Too Hard on Him: Abel prides himself on being rigorous and upright, always seeking to pursue "the most right thing", but he seems to doubt himself in his response to Julian's breakdown.