Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 2014. Before The Door Pictures, Washington Square Films, FilmNation Entertainment, Participant Media, Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ, Old Bull Pictures. Screenplay by J.C. Chandor. Cinematography by Bradford Young. Produced by J.C. Chandor, Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb. Music by Alex Ebert. Production Design by John P. Goldsmith. Costume Design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone. Film Editing by Ron Patane. Golden Globe Awards 2014. Gotham Awards 2014. Independent Spirit Awards 2014.
New York City: if you can make it there you can make it anywhere, and if you can get through 1981 when the rates of crime were at their highest ever in history, you’ve probably got an angel on your shoulder. The darkness of the city’s corruption enfolds aspiring business tycoon Oscar Isaac as he looks to become the king of suppliers for heating oil in the Big Apple, but everything is closing in on him just as he is about to make the biggest leap forward in his career. Having put a deposit on a property that will allow him lucrative expansion but also means risking everything, he is distressed that his drivers are being attacked by unknown rivals who steal his fuel, the government is investigating him for fraudulent dealings, his door to door employees are being attacked and armed men are showing up at his doorstep and frightening his wife (Jessica Chastain) and children. Not that the lady in question is easily perturbed: right next to Isaac’s permanent, confident calm that masks an undercurrent of dread is Chastain as a tough and morally dubious woman who is equally devoted to their financial success but takes her role as protector to her children very seriously. Isaac reassures all around him that he will have the money he needs to close the deal and will find out which of his competitors is behind the attacks, but what he wants most is to be a success without turning into a gangster. When the photography resembles Gordon Willis in its deep shadowy recesses and ominously flush colours, however, is it possible to keep your head high and your hands clean? Then again, is the greed that will mark the decade to follow that much more honourable than the violent brutality that preceded it? J.C. Chandor’s smooth, essentially perfect thriller is a crime epic without a central criminal, as good as The Long Good Friday except that what at first appears to be the absence of a mafia is instead the creation of a new kind of organized crime. Long, intelligent scenes of dialogue are broken up by sequences of such impeccable tension that they will have you jumping out of your seat (including a subtle car chase that is unforgettable), while the first-rate cast (which also includes Alessandro Nivola, David Oyelowo and Albert Brooks) is as notable as the exceptional recreation of the era in all its brown and orange glory.