JC Chandor made quite a name for himself with his first two flicks, the ensemble financial crisis critiquing Margin Call and his follow up, the largely silent – or at least dialogue-less – lost at sea drama All Is Lost. His third outing is a step up a gear in terms of scope, scale and ambition, and it is a hugely successful move for the young filmmaker.
An 80s-set crime thriller on the surface, it tells the story of Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) a US immigrant and New York City heating oil company owner who is trying to stake his own claim to a piece of the American dream under Reagan’s reign, but doing it with honesty and integrity. Morals over muscle! With New York in the throes of its Eighties peak in crime rates and violence, this is no mean ambition mind, and as competitors circle and the FEDS close in, the pressure ramps on Abel to almost excruciating levels.
Shot in muted yellows and browns, and with a smart eye for Eighties fashions and styles in everything from suits and homes to haircuts, it is a smartly observed period piece. Where its sartorial eye is top drawer, its consideration of capitalism and criminality’s mutual motivations, morals and merits is equally astute, as the parallels between the two blur and the route to success, no matter how many bones broken, is validated by the destination.
Events escalate as Abel’s drivers are routinely attacked – he won’t give in to this intimidation nor drop to its level – but as the pressure increases, and a down payment on a local piece of land that could help his business grow to the next level threatens to derail all he has worked for, he’s called to question his morals and loyalties.
It’s tense – a foot, then car then train chase is a stylised exercise is making an intense cinematic ‘action’ experience where very little actually happens – and yet understated. While this may put it at a disadvantage in the race for Oscar glory (it is surely a less likely to win entry compared to the Academy-friendly fodder) it is a hugely engaging film.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK…
Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson star in Alex Garland’s (The Beach) directorial debut, a science fiction ponder-er about artificial intelligence, sexy lady robots and what it means to be human.
Out Jan 23 through Universal.
Mark Wahlberg is the lecturer with a penchant for gambling in this stylist looking thriller co-starring John Goodman and Jessica Lange.
Out Jan 23 through Paramount Pictures.