LOS ANGELES (AFP) – One of this year’s hottest independent films – watched closely in the Oscars race – is the gritty thriller “A Most Violent Year”, set in crime-ridden 1981 New York.
The film, whose restrained style slowly builds powerful suspense amid acerbic humour, tells the tale of immigrant entrepreneur Abel Morales, who aims to build an oil empire with the help of his wife, played by Jessica Chastain, heiress of a fallen oil tycoon.
“For a long time I had had this idea about a husband and wife working together,” writer director JC Chandor told AFP.
“I wanted the hero of the film to be His-panic, because it is the most important recent wave of immigration” in the United States, he added.
“This movie is about ambition, and that’s what immigration is about, building something better than what you’ve left be-hind.”
“A Most Violent Year”, which opens in US theatres on December 31, takes place in 1981, statistically the most violent year in New York’s history, with police completely overwhelmed.
Morales, faced with a series of brutal, anonymous attacks against his business and employees, tries desperately to protect his property and family.
The businessman has few scruples and only fears failure – but he does not want to break the law, while his wife and his lawyer (Albert Brooks) push him to take more radical measures to stop the attacks.
Chandor was writing the script just as a tragic shooting took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which a disturbed young man killed 26 people, including 20 young children.
Chandor said he lived near the Connecticut town and was struck by the thought that “it could have happened in my daughter’s school”.
“It made me think of this idea of escalation, how an act of violence ripples on society,” he said.
Morales is played by Oscar Isaac, known for his star turn in the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013) and who is featured in the upcoming “Star Wars”. His portrayal evokes a young Al Pacino from “The Godfather”.