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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: A Most Violent Year

by Andrew Hudak

Critically-acclaimed drama "A Most Violent Year" makes its Blu-Ray debut

Some of the greatest American stories are of immigrants who dream of a better future in America. They leave their native country, come here, start a business, and through grit, hard work, and sheer willpower they grow that business. They survive, then they thrive, and when all is said and done, they have created something great. “A Most Violent Year” is one of those stories, picked up at about half way through being told.

The year referred to in “A Most Violent year” is 1981, which according to crime statistics was one of the most violent in history. An ambitious man in his mid-thirties named Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) owns a company called Standard Oil, supplying oil to areas around New York City. In order to grow his business, he puts his and his wife Anna’s (Jessica Chastain) life savings into a deposit on some waterfront property. The plan is to unload and store the oil straight off of the ships, rather than paying to have the oil transported to his storage facility. This will lower his costs and increase his storage capacity, giving him an advantage over his competitors.



Naturally, his competitors aren’t taking the challenge lying down. Morales’s Standard Oil trucks are the targets of constant hijackings and attacks. His drivers are losing faith in his ability to protect them. They want to arm themselves, but Morales thinks giving them guns is a bad idea that will make matters worse. Not helping things is the fact that a relentless detective named Lawrence (David Oyelowo) is investigating Standard Oil for fraud. This means trouble not just for the company, but for Abel personally, as well as Anna, since she is the company’s accountant.

Buzz around “A Most Violent Year” has largely been about how Isaac channels Al Pacino in his performance. This isn’t wrong. The hair, clothes, stance, speech, and general overall confidence are very reminiscent of Pacino, most notably in his role as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” movies. But don’t mistake channeling for impersonation. This is a deeply felt, well thought out performance by Isaac.  The actions that Morales takes are based on his character and what he believes is best, and Isaac makes each of those moments his own.

Chastain is pistol as Anna. She also has confidence to spare, and is not afraid to show it. She gives Lawrence a piece of her mind at every turn. She’s also not shy about telling Abel what she thinks. The great thing about this couple is what a fantastic team they are. Sure, they may have their differences, but there is never any doubt that they have each other’s back—even when one of them might not be completely playing by the rules. Buy It.

A Most Violent Year is only $16.99 on Blu-Ray at Amazon!

Also New This Week:

Breathless

There are very few actors who can play a smarmy douchebag and completely get away with it. Richard Gere is one of those few. So it’s a good thing he was available when casting was being done for “Breathless,” a 1983 remake of a Jean-Luc Godard French language film from 1960.

In “Breathless” Gere plays Jesse, a 28 year-old hot shot (in his own mind anyway) who embodies the phrase “young, dumb, and full of cum.” Jesse feels no remorse in hustling and stealing. On his way from Vegas to LA in a stolen Porsche, he accidentally shoots a Highway Patrolman. This is one thing he actually does feel guilty about. Luckily for Jesse, all he has to do is think of the music of Jerry Lee Lewis and he will be immediately energized and reinvigorated and back to his old self in no time.

The reason for Jesse’s trip to LA is to reconnect with Monica (Valérie Kaprisky). After he rudely interrupts her presentation to earn an architecture degree, she hooks up with him. Sure, there is some resistance at first, but Jesse easily uses his charms to disarm her. He keeps his criminal shenanigans from her, but given his personality and some of the places he takes her, she must instinctively know that he is not all he seems.

Wait. Perhaps she doesn’t, but I think she does, and it is this unpredictability that excites her. She has another man in her life named Paul (William Tepper) who is interested in her. He is a little older, and is kind, intelligent, and easy going. By contrast, Jesse is self-centered, boorish, and irascible. She has to make the age old decision between the steady, level-headed lover and the wild, adventurous bad boy. Given that she is in her early to mid-twenties, it’s practically a given which one she’ll choose.

The relationship between Jesse and Monica is tumultuous. They both fly off the handle with rage at each other. It’s only after they calm down and come back together that they realize how in love they are and how deeply they feel about each other. It’s young love at its finest, and it’s enthusiastically and passionately acted by Gere and Kaprisky. The fact that it’s based on a story and screenplay by legendary French New Wave filmmakers François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard for their 1960 film of the same name helps give “Breathless” a quality boost. Rent It.

One more note: I wanted to call out “Breathless” because it is briefly featured in the recent release Electric Slide. In comparing “Breathless” with “Electric Slide,” both are films about bad boy criminals and the women who love them. However, where I thought the relationship was the weakest aspect of “Electric Slide,” whereas in “Breathless” it is the strongest. Seeing “Breathless” will give an indication of what the filmmakers of “Electric Slide” were attempting to achieve.

More New Releases: “Empire Records,” fun but typical “save the X” story with a very young Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger, about an independent record store fighting a corporate buyout; “Singles,” Cameron Crowe’s movie about angsty Gen-Xers looking for love; “After the Sunset,” about a Federal Agent (Woody Harrelson) going to the Bahamas to keep track of the thief (Pierce Brosnan) who continuously eludes him; and “Imitation of Life,” director Douglas Sirk’s 1959 rumination on racism, starring Lana Turner.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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