A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014, J.C. Chandor)
After two terrific (and wildly different) films, Chandor’s third effort is his first misfire. And more disappointingly, his first ordinary one. At several points during this plodding narrative, I knew exactly what was about to happen, and not in a way where consequences are inevitable — more like “I bet if he catches that guy, he’s gonna shout ‘Who do you work for?!’ Who do you work for!!!” and then that exact thing happened. This series of predictable beats comes because Chandor’s thinly disguised critique of Republican America’s oil company-led power grabs (which is certainly worthy of critique, but only if it’s nuanced and cleverly done) is done with a lead foot: it’s a slow and methodical impression of a Sidney Lumet picture without actually being interesting. Isaac and Chastain are fine — the former is workmanlike, the latter is swinging for the fences — but their roles are types instead of humans, and Chandor’s dialogue gives them one note to play. The film is bereft of a sense of humor or levity; it’s all hopelessness and cynicism. But even ALL IS LOST had some playfulness to it, despite its high degree of peril. The weather and the color scheme do the job of imposing doom upon this drama — it would have been nice if the rest of it added shading or surprise. But Chandor just cuts together a series of well-composed shots with ruthless competence, leaving no impression once the snow melts.