Talking Movies

January 23, 2015

A Most Violent Year

1981 was the worst year on record for violent crime in New York City, and that threat hangs over director JC Chandor’s absorbing period drama.

A-Most-Violent-Year-5

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a driven entrepreneur in the business of supplying the oil that gets New York thru its winters. He is buying a coveted piece of real estate from a Hasidic dynasty, but needs an awful lot of money to cover the sale or he loses his huge deposit and the tract of land; and with it the chance to trump his rivals. But things are unravelling. The government in the form of Lawrence (David Oyelowo) is ready to indict his business practices, somebody – possibly his rivals Peter Forente (Alessandro Nivola) and Gleen Fleshler (Arnold Klein) – are hijacking his trucks and stealing his oil, his protégé Julian (Elyes Gabel) has been severely injured in one of these jackings, and Teamster Peter Gerety (Bill O’Leary) is threatening a strike if Abel doesn’t arm his vulnerable fleet of drivers.

A Most Violent Year despite the menacing title isn’t a violent film. But from the outset, when you realise that driving a truck thru a toll-booth can lead to getting jumped, it has an unnerving tension. JC Chandor sets his film in 1981 New York, and seemingly sets out to replicate the 1970s New Hollywood in doing so. Frank G DeMarco who shot Chandor’s previous films Margin Call and All is Lost with a crisp clarity is replaced as cinematographer by Bradford Young. I raved about Young’s atmospheric under-lighting of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and here he channels 1970s DP Gordon Willis (aka Prince of Darkness) for rich, underlit interiors of browns and dark gold. And if certain scenes look like The Godfather then Oscar Isaac is on the same wavelength as a certain Pacino quality comes off his performance.

But this is Michael Corleone determined to remain on the straight and narrow. Abel’s wife Anna (Jessica Chastain in 1980s mobster moll mode) is the daughter of a connected man, but Abel is adamant that he wants to win by staying clean. Such morality confuses his attorney Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks), who foresees disaster if Abel doesn’t learn to play dirty in a bent town. The control on display by writer/director Chandor is intimidating. This is a very precise film. Even action scenes, like a thrilling truck chase in a tunnel, feel exacting; and a foot-chase along a spaghetti junction with a steadicam recalls Marathon Man. But, as with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, there’s a point at which this Biskind-led valorisation of New Hollyood becomes crippling. How can you make it new, as Pound demanded of art, if you’re in thrall to making it like they did in 1975?

Chandor is an intriguing film-maker – he’s made three films, all wildly different, but each time characterised by singular vision.

4/5

Advertisements

July 24, 2013

World War Z

In a follow-on to his piece about Hollywood’s trouble with zombie movies last week Elliot Harris writes:

Marc Foster’s adaption of the best seller World War Z is a better film than expected but not as good as it could have been. Despite release delays and stories of re-shoots; WWZ is a watchable summer blockbuster.

original

 

The film opens in the serene family kitchen of the Lane family where we are introduced to Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), his wife Karin (Mireille Enos, Gangster Squad) and their children Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins) hours before the Zombie apocalypse reaches their home city of Philadelphia. Having witnessed firsthand the devastating effects and rapid spread of the virus, Lane struggles to get his family to safety, fighting both the already and soon to be infected. Faced with cities and whole nations across the globe falling to the ravages of Zombie hoards, Lane reluctantly answers the call from his former employers for help. With no clear information on the origin of the outbreak, and only rumours to work with, Lane is dragged across the globe in search of the cause of and possible solutions to this global pandemic.

What transpires is a globe-trotting race against time with the future of the human race at stake. Starting with little information, and only a small team of crack SEALS, Lane and Harvard virologist Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel, Welcome to the Punch) are dispatched to the site of the first reported Zombie outbreak. As time ticks down, Lane is faced with an increasing array of seemingly unanswerable questions and very few answers. This coupled with the logistical nightmare of trying to not only stay ahead of the infection, but catch up with its source in a world falling apart helps build the tension. The tension never quite reaches the crescendo that it promises and the resolution seems to come about more through fortune and luck than the result of a Holmes-like investigation that Lane set out on.

The film, while not the utter mess that many predicted, definitely has a number of problems and certainly fails to live up to the book that it’s based on. These issues range from the join-the-dots narrative to some suspect decisions in the film’s storytelling and casting of some of the minor characters. Evidence of the much speculated and forecasted flop have survived the cutting room floor. Despite these issues, and the near complete divorce from the source material (which is quite jarring at times), WWZ is not without its charms. The reshoots manage to complete a fairly logically, if totally open-ended ending. Based on the film’s takings to date and the standard sequels clauses in most actors’ contracts these days, you can likely expect the announcement of a sequel in the next few months. Hopefully, any sequel produced will be a little more truthful to the book.

While WWZ neither lives up nor even sticks to the plot of the book that it’s based on, it delivers a solid zombie film worthy of the genre.

2.5/5

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.