Perhaps not as outstanding or in depth with explosive tension as the trailers suggest which is a slight shame, but this film still harks of classic Godfather crime thrills and the moody city setting makes for a gritty journey into what is right and wrong to get ahead.
New York, 1981 and during winter, heating oil boss Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) try to deal with increasing business dilemmas from truck-jacking and the DA snooping on files. As Abel keeps hoping to stay on the honest way his company and employees are tested more and more.
The whole American Dream angle is neatly done, with them coming over and succeeding in a short of amount of time as the go to oil company. Like ‘Scarface’ and Tony Montana the characterisations of groups as gangsters is quite clearly felt, though here, the lead guy doesn’t want to become that typical gangster stereotype and his method of business is to try and keep clean. Of course as with most American Dream movies, fractures inevitably appear and the clouding of the law floats in with intrigue and grit as we see whether Standard Oil can survive.
J.C. Chandor after successfully giving Robert Redford a strong role in ‘All is Lost’ comes back with his stylish writing to weave together a story of money, warring businesses and honesty. This theme of a flawed path of power comes across a lot as we get Anna or Abel repeatedly telling each other or outer parties that they’re doing good. Abel Morales’ name itself is a play on being able to do the correct thing and morals. The continued idea of right and wrong does get bandied round a lot but it’s nice to stick with a character that is likable, he’s never bad, possibly shady or misty eyed in intentions but he wants to keep a clear name for himself. Chandor’s script is detailed and immerses us into the cold world of early 80’s NY with ease, the moment of dialogue about jumping when it’s most scary is apt and suits the strong atmosphere of this movie well.
The look of the film is also in tremendous keeping with the moody dread of what could happen at any moment. Bradford Young has a neat eye for capturing the snow fallen streets and sun trapped skylines giving it a cold yet beautiful edge. The high angled shot of Abel on car tracked sludge was another perfect frame and stood out for me. The cinematography matches the suspense and threat laced structure and in particularly as an oil truck is shadowed on a brief chase through a smoky atmospheric tunnel. I think in general this film does look more moody than the plot actually is though.
The costuming is on point and Chastain got an all Armani tailored wardrobe as her character, the late 70’s/early 80’s vibe hitting every bullseye as she keeps a glamorous vision to Anna. The jacket over Abel’s shoulders is sharp and keeps with the look of this film damn nicely too. A nice and funny link of colour is used too in the orange coat and car character combo. It certainly feels the part this film, if sadly not truly gaining the substance I was hoping it would muster.
Oscar Isaac is an actor I now love watching and thank the lord for ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ for introducing me to him. He gets the charismatic and weighty role of Abel right and you’re connected to him through his attempts to keep his business going. The pairing of him and Chastain is fiery and great to watch. Her passionate written plea to Chandor to use Isaac gave the film a lift and he’s excellent to watch. Jessica Chastain too gets her teeth into Anna, not as much to do but there’s slivers of troubling don’t mess attitude in her character that she hints on enough but not too much to overpower. The forceful woman helping without making it known gives Chastain enough to do to make her memorable.
A film that handles the personal side of problems really well, bringing in family as well as business to see how trouble is dealt with. It’s not wholly violent as expected and not as brilliant as hoped though still much better than ‘The Drop’ which shares the same sort of look. Enough tension and drama to keep the intrigue high in a cool crime flick to simmer between the bio-pics of awards season.