A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Most Violent Year lives up to its name, with several brutal beatings. Set in 1981 New York, one of the city's roughest periods, this taut thriller centers on a successful immigrant whose rivals are trying to run him out of business; his trucks are hijacked and his drivers cruelly attacked. There's a shoot-out in the middle of the day, gun threats, and realistic fight scenes that leave people bloodied, battered, and scared. Language isn't constant, but the words are strong, including "f--k" and "p---y." Expect a little kissing/embracing and some revealing outfits; characters drink socially, and a lot of them smoke -- which wasn't unusual for the time.
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What's the story?
It's 1981, one of the most crime-ridden years in New York City's history, and Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is about to pull off the most important deal of his life. An immigrant who's worked hard to become the head of a fuel-delivery business, he's ready to buy a harbor terminal that will make him one of the biggest operators in the city. The problem is that someone keeps hijacking his trucks, and soon Abel is getting dragged into an all-out war, with truck drivers getting into shoot-outs in broad daylight on crowded streets. It doesn't help that the city is investigating his industry, and Morales may have cut a few corners. His deal is close to falling apart, and so is his entire life in what's turning out to be A MOST VIOLENT YEAR.
Is it any good?
When it comes to setting the vibe for gritty, early '80s New York City, A Most Violent Year is a tour de force. From the hairstyles and the graffitied buildings down to the film's very patina, it captures a specific time in the city when hope was in short supply and violence doled out in large doses. In this arena, director J.C. Chandor proves again that he's a master of dark, moody dramas. Kudos also to Isaac and co-star Jessica Chastain, who rise above the paltry material and make their mark every time they're on camera with their realistic and textured portrayals of two characters brought to the brink.
But, yes, the material is paltry. It's true that everything hinges on a single transaction, but the stakes feel high because we're told they are, not because the storytelling makes it so. The big reveal doesn't feel like a big reveal, and we're left out of the loop at key moments that, had we been brought inside the action, would have felt more significant than they do. Being at a remove means the audience doesn't care as much, and that's a disappointment.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about A Most Violent Year's violence. Is it necessary to the story? Why, or why not?
How does the New York City of 1981 differ from how Manhattan is portrayed in films set in the present? How/why do you think things changed?
Talk about Abel's business practices. Is he running a clean operation? Is he breaking the same rules as all of his peers? Does that make him a criminal? Can a character do iffy things and still be sympathetic?
For kids who love thrills
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