A closer look at… A Most Violent Year

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A Most Violent Year is rated 15 for very strong language, strong violence. The film is available on DVD.

The Scoop

New York, 1981 – the most violent year in the city’s history. Immigrant businessman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) are trying to expand their heating oil company, but a DA agent (David Oyelowo) is investigating their dealings. To add to their troubles, the Morales’ trucks keep being hijacked at gunpoint by anonymous goons. Not only is the company losing money, but the drivers – including Julian (Elyes Gabel), who lands in hospital after a savage beating – are becoming too afraid to work.

Though Abel suspects that one of his competitors is behind the attacks, he’s determined to behave honourably, and not resort to violent tactics in return. Anna, whose father and brother are in the mob, has other ideas. How far will each of them go in order to protect what they’ve built?

Dig Deeper

  • Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? If you have seen J.C. Chandor’s previous films – Margin Call and All is Lost – how did A Most Violent Year compare? What did you make of the film’s period setting?
  • The title A Most Violent Year seems to suggest an abundance of violent action. Were you surprised by the relative lack of conventional ‘action’ scenes in the film, and what alternative means are used to create tension? What impact do the scenes of action and violence have when they do arrive?

‘We know how this story goes, or we think we do, since the honourable man gradually corrupted by external forces is practically a genre of its own, and Chandor plays shrewdly with our mounting anticipation of the moment when Abel will finally snap.’  – Critic Emma Dibdin

  • A Most Violent Year drew comparisons to films such as The Godfather (1972), in which a character is determined to ‘go straight’ but becomes corrupted. How does A Most Violent Year reference these kinds of storylines, as well as screen archetypes such as ‘the Latin immigrant’ or ‘the mobster’s wife’? How, if at all, did the film subvert your expectations in this respect?

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  • What did you make of Abel, and what do we learn about him over the course of the film? How significant is his background as an immigrant and a truck driver? What basic principles does he live by, and what motivates him to build his business?
  • How did you react to Anna and her choices throughout? What were her defining moments, and did she surprise you? How significant is her background as a mobster’s daughter? How did you feel about her relationship with Abel?
  • How did you feel about the character of Julien, and the difficulties he faced? Could you empathise with the choices he made under pressure, and why or why not? How did you feel after the final scene of the film?

‘It’s often the case that period stories can tell us more about our current society than those set in the present day.’   – Critic Emma Dibdin

  • What do you make of this statement, and what are some of the reasons why we are drawn to stories set in other time periods? How does A Most Violent Year highlight issues which are particularly relevant to our current cultural climate?
  • What did you make of Abel as a businessman and a leader? How does he go about motivating his staff, and how do they respond? Are his business principles pragmatic as well as honest, and which seems to matter to him more?

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  • How does Abel Morales embody the ideals of the American Dream? Does the film seem to be making any critique of these ideals, and if so, what? How might it be significant that director J.C. Chandor has previously made a film (Margin Call) about the 2007-8 financial collapse?
  • What do you make of Abel’s insistence on not arming his drivers? Is refusing to ‘escalate’ in this way ultimately a wise move, and why or why not? In what real-world scenarios might this question become pertinent?
  • What is Abel’s moral code, and to what extent does he manage to live up to it? How did you respond to his choices regarding Julien, and his decision to use the money which Anna has put aside? What consequences do you think this choice might have for them in the long term – both as businesspeople and as a married couple?

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  • How does Anna’s moral code contrast with Abel’s? To what extent does the film as a whole support her view that living ‘clean’ is impractical or naive? Is it possible to succeed – or even to survive – in our world without becoming corrupt?

‘I have always taken the path that is most right. The result is never in question for me. Just what path you take to get there.’ – Abel

  • Is taking the morally right path necessarily more likely to result in success or happiness? If not, what might make it worthwhile? In deciding how to live, is it more important to think about the journey or the destination?
  • At what points in history has refusing to meet violence with violence proved a successful tactic? In a violent world, why might pacifism be a moral or spiritual conviction for some people? What is necessary in order to bring about true peace?

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Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.

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