Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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A Most Violent Year (2014)

It’s rough out there for a oil salesman.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is an honest man, trying to make an honest living, with an honest wife (Jessica Chastain), and an honest family. However, during the winter of 1981 in New York City, that’s a lot easier said then done. Because once Abel makes a deal with a local money-launderer, everybody around Abel who either loathes or envies him, don’t want him to pay any of that money back. Instead, they want Abel to go broke, get found out by the cops, and possibly even dead. Though, the problem for Abel isn’t that it seems like everybody’s coming after him, and only him, it’s that he doesn’t who it is, nor does he want to stoop to their levels of violence, murder, and corruption. He believes he is better and doesn’t want to dirty-up his business one bit. But now that the cops are hot on his tail, Abel believes that it may be time to step up and defend his business, or become what everybody around him wants him to become – a goner.

Sometimes, it’s incredibly easy to classify a movie as what it seems to be, or better yet, actually sounds like. For instance, A Most Violent Year is the kind of movie that looks and sounds like that it would be another violent gangster-pic in the same vein as a Scorsese flick. Heck, it even has the word “violent” in its title, so how could it not have people whacking one another?

"Ya heard?"

“Ya heard?”

Well, sometimes, looks can be deceiving, kids. While that usually means something bad for movies that look good and end up turning out to be junk, here, we’ve got something different – a movie that may seem like it’s chock full of bloody violence and action, actually isn’t. Sure, there’s the occasional gun-fight, or chase through the streets, but they don’t feel thrown in there for the sake of livening up the proceedings; instead, what writer/director J.C. Chandor does best is that he allows them to flow smoothly into the story, and make it seem pertinent. That this is a story of a man who’s trying to keep him, his family, and his business strictly clean and legal, makes it all the more understanding that, when push comes to shove, he can’t help but loose control a bit and take all sorts of drastic decisions.

And that’s mostly where Chandor’s flick stays to talk about; it’s not whether one can stay afloat with their business, it’s that they can do so without having to become one with the rest of the wild and rowdy pack you are sometimes grouped-in together with. It’s an interesting dilemma that Chandor poses with his protagonist and for the story as a whole, but it never actually loses steam. Instead, it keeps us guessing as to whether or not this lead character is going to lose his cool, and if so, how so and at one costs. We don’t want to see him have to be forced to kill anybody, but if he has to, we hope that he does so at a reasonable level that doesn’t put him, or anybody that he loves in harm’s way.

As you can tell, it’s not just an interesting dilemma for the lead character, but for us, the audience, as well.

The parts where I do feel that Chandor as the story lose a bit of steam, is when it seems like he’s being as vague as humanly possible, only to throw us for more curveballs, but to also remind us that his movie isn’t like other crime-thrillers out there. A good portion of that is true, but when it comes to making a gripping, interesting-to-listen-to thriller, you have to give the audience enough details and bits of info to allow for them to draw their own conclusions. You don’t have to spell everything out in big, bold letters and practically hold the audiences hand, but when it seems like you’re not going further into detail about a certain aspect of the story, it seems like you’re cheating the audience out of what could be an even more engaging tale.

That said, Chandor, in my humble opinion, is a director who is three-for-three. Which is even more of an impressive feat considering that the two other movies he’s created (Margin Call, All is Lost) are all completely different from one another. Call was talky and almost Mamet-like; Lost was a Cast Away-ish tale of one character, and one character only; and this one here, is a moral, crime tale, that seems like something Sidney Lumet would have made and been quite proud of. If there is one similarity between all three of these movies, however, it’s that they all feature desperate people, in some very tragic situations, who are trying their hardest to survive by any means necessary. They may not always make the smartest decisions, but they are at least trying to save their own head.

And that’s the exact case with Abel Morales, played to perfection by the always powerful Oscar Isaac. With Morales, we get a character that we like, if only because of what he stands for; he’s an immigrant who came over to this land, to create his own business, and get what each and everyone of us want, “the American Dream”. So already, he’s winning points with us, but once we see him starting to get all sorts of pushed and pulled by these local gangsters that are practically suffocating him, then it’s obvious to see that we may be losing him a tad bit. He’s not just losing his sense of morality, but he also might lose the dream he set-out for himself and it’s hard to fully root for him with the actions he commits. Then again, there’s also the sense that it’s all for a good cause and it puts this character into perspective as to whether he’s a good guy, or a bad one.

Mostly though, it comes down to him just being a guy, trying to make a living for himself, and those that he loves. That’s it.

"Mhmmmmmmmmm."

“Mhmmmmmmmmm.”

Isaac is wonderful in this role and has you totally believe in the constant struggle he goes through with this character. Isaac plays both sides of this character very well in that we never quite know whether he wants to be apart of this bloody, violent underground, or not. All we do know is that his intentions are good enough that makes it easy for us to root for him, even when we don’t know if we’re not supposed to. Once again, Isaac is great at showing these dueling-sides to this character and always has you on-edge, wondering when he’s going to turn the other cheek and how.

Another great performance here is from Jessica Chastain as Abel’s mob-daughter wife, Anna. As great of an actress as Chastain may be, for some reason, I just didn’t know if I could fully believe in her as an Italian, New York-housewife; this isn’t to say that I’m doubting her talents, I just don’t know if she’d been able to pull it of well enough to where we’d see more to her than just the act of what a stereotypical, Italian-woman looks, acts, and sounds like. Thankfully though, I was proven wrong as Chastain absolutely owns this role and allows us to see her as less of an accessory in Abel’s life, and more of a factor in the reason as to why he is as successful as he is. She constantly pushes him further than he could ever imagine and when he needs her the most, she’s there, sometimes, with nearly as much fire-power as he. I don’t want to call her a Lady Macbeth-like character, but she pretty much is; just not nearly as corny as that kind of role was for Laura Linney in Mystic River.

Ugh. So bad.

Anyway, while these two are incredibly solid in these roles, there’s plenty more where they came from, with each and every character still seeming as interesting, and as thought-provoking as they could be. For instance, the character of Lawrence, the detective who is constantly behind every corner Abel and his business turns down, may seem like he’ll be just as dirty and as corrupt as the people he’s going after, but more or less, stays true to himself or any kind of code that he may have set out for himself as a cop. Sure, David Oyelowo is quite solid in this role, but he’s also helped-out quite a bunch by the writing for this role, that doesn’t have him act like the standard-version of a cop we see in these kinds of movies; he goes by-the-badge, but also doesn’t forget about certain aspects of the job that may need to be looked at a bit differently. He’s not a bad, or immoral person; he’s just a person. With his own needs, hopes and desires.

As we all are.

Consensus: Exciting without ever over-exploding, thought-provoking without being too obvious, and well-acted without a weak-link, A Most Violent Year is a solid crime-thriller that asks hard questions of both its characters, as well as its audience.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Company Men (2010)

Rich people can be sad too.

Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) are living the American dream: great job, beautiful family, shiny Porsche in the garage. When corporate downsizing leaves them jobless, the three men are forced to re-define their lives as men, husbands, and fathers.

As everybody in the world knows, October 2008 was the time where we all found ourselves in an economic-crisis and yes, even though it is a bit hypocritical from a 19-year-old, who at the time, was 15 and lived with his parents, had no job, had no responsibilities  and no bills to pay other than my money for lunch, I can still say that it was a sucky time for everybody and in a way, still is. Everybody was affected by it, not just the common-man, but everybody!

I start off with this middle-minded rant mainly because this is one of the biggest problems with this movie that we have here: who it focuses on. Having a story about a regular, average-Joe who loses his job out of nowhere and finds himself really struggling isn’t a story that hasn’t been done before, but would have probably been more engrossing than watching a bunch of millionaires go from everything, to nothing in a matter of a couple of weeks. Of course, the fact of the matter is that this did happen in real-life and it wasn’t just a certain group of people that were affected by the corporate downsizing, and that’s why this movie feels like it should hit harder, mainly because it’s so timeless and easy to connect with, but it just isn’t.

"They always say, "you're never as good as you're first movie". I guess in your case, that's false."

“They always say, “you’re never as good as you’re first movie”. I guess in your case, that’s false.”

Watching all of these guys be pissed-off by the fact that they don’t have the money to pay for their golf clubs or their Porsches really just seemed stupid and something I didn’t really care about. It gets even worse when some of these guys still feel like they can’t tell their wives, or the people around them that they lost their job. Yeah, I get that losing your job is sort of like losing an ounce of your pride, but there comes a point where you got to nut-up, shut-up, and get moving on with your life in order to make that moolah fall from the skies. Sitting around, pissing and moaning about it, and not even telling your wife why you don’t have the money for the mortgage, isn’t going to solve shite.

But to back away from a topic and theme I guess I don’t know much about since I’m not necessarily the hardest working-man out there in the world, let me go back to something I do know a lick about: movies. The whole idea of watching these rich people be sad by the fact that they can’t spend 500 dollars on dinners any longer, definitely didn’t work for me but I was able to get past it and at least try my hardest to look at the brighter-things in this movie, which didn’t seem to come to me right away. The problem I think I had with this movie stems from what and how writer/director John Wells tries to tell his story. He tries to show us that maybe, just maybe by going back to an old-school America is the only way we’re going to live and survive in this world, but he he shows us in the most obvious and predictable way that’s enough to make the people on the employment-line just scoff at.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s obvious that this economic crisis was a very, very depressing time for all men and women of America, but Wells shows how sad and depressing it is in the most conventional ways possible. For instance, Chris Cooper’s character is probably the best example of what I mean because when his character gets fired, he doesn’t just go home, act as if nothing happened whatsoever and go out there and try to make another living with his life, no, he sits at the bar all-day, gets hammered, throws rocks at the old, corporate-building he used to work-at, and tries to act like he still works there by slugging-around the same briefcase. Same example can sort of go for Tommy Lee Jones who finds himself banging-around with the same chick that fired him, and choosing her over his dearly, old-wife, mainly because he’s just depressed. I get it, they’re sad and when you’re sad, you do dumb stuff. Get on with it!

"I'm guessing meeting at a bar was out of the question?"

I guess meeting at a bar was out of the question?

The only light and shiny material actually in this flick, is actually the performances from the characters that try their hardest to make everything work and in a way, succeed in doing-so. “In a way”, however. Ben Affleck has the main-spotlight here as Bobby and definitely seems fit for the job of a guy who loses it all, tries to avoid it by acting like nothing has happened, only to get slapped in the face with reality and realize that he has to do a whole bunch of crap he didn’t want to do when he was rich. His character isn’t all sympathetic to begin-with, considering that he continues to blow-off the idea of saving money and not robbing the bank, but Affleck works through it and does what he can with this role. His wife, played by the always magnificent Rosemarie DeWitt, is always supportive, but at the same time, also never seems to notice how much of a dick he’s being and as hard as she can be on him for not accepting reality, she seems very lenient in terms of actually telling him what’s up in the world. I get it, they’re husband and wife and they forgive each other over everything, but she doesn’t seem all that strong and loving at all, so why the hell should be that way when the guy’s acting like a dick? Ehh, I don’t get it.

Tommy Lee Jones is doing his usual, crotchety  old-man shtick that never seems to run dry, even if his character even seems to get tired of it about half-way through and begins to get all soft and weak in the knees. Tommy Lee is a great actor so this weakly-written role doesn’t do as much harm to him as it does to others, but it’s still obvious that there should be more meat for us to chew-on with this character and his emotions. Chris Cooper has the most sympathetic character out of the bunch, but like I mentioned before, seems a bit too obvious in terms of where his story goes and why. Like Jones, Cooper is a great actor so it’s not that glaring, but still, he should be given more material that’s suited for his great, acting-self.

"So, you still polish your Oscar?"

“So, you still polish your statue? Yeah I’ve been doing that for 19 years.”

Maria Bello is always good with what she does and is fine here as the chick that goes around firing people, and instead, more or less comes-off like a person doing her job, rather than a monster out to get people’s hearts, souls, and above all, their bank accounts. Kevin Cotsner also shows up as the blue-collared, American worker that makes a living off of hanging up dry wall every day of the week and it’s definitely a fun performance that Costner has a blast playing, even though that New England-accent seems to be way too heavy, especially in the seems with Affleck. How the hell do you have a movie that takes place in the state of Massachusetts  that stars Ben Affleck, and not have him doing a Bawhstan accent? Seriously, the guy’s made for it and if you don’t believe me, watch The Town and Good Will Hunting, aka, two movies that will probably inspire you more than this.

Consensus: The premise and themes are as timeless as they may come, but when it comes to delivering on those important ideas and thoughts, the Company Men doesn’t seem to succeed with a bunch of great actors, working in thinly-scripted roles that seem to be placed-in the right category of “Conventional”.

5/10=Rental!!

"They ain't like us."

“They ain’t like us.”

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