Writer and director J.C. Chandor returns with another attention grabbing project, and with that title it would be impossible to ignore even without remembering the power of his last movie All Is Lost. Taking on moral quandaries and shady business deals rather than one man against the sea; this time things still lend themselves to the story of a single character struggling against forces that seem to be slipping out of his control rather quickly. The premise avoids going directly into that world of 70s and 80s organised crime which has been played out so many times before but still retains many of those elements, and manages to create an atmosphere reminiscent of those older releases through the use of sound and colour to enhance the period setting. It also helps that the cast is great, but does the rest hold up as a thriller or is it less than the sum of these parts?
The plot is a super slow pressure cooker affair, with Abel (Oscar Isaac) struggling with a newly formed venture in the heating business that his competition would rather like to see become a failure in spite of their facade of comradery. His insistence of going by the book and doing as he puts it 'the most right thing' soon becomes a source of trouble as it is very evident nobody else is playing by the rules. With the trucks he uses to carry his fuel being stolen the pressure begins to build from all sides with his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) pushing for him to fight back with harder measures and the financial backing he needs slowing crumbling. This dilemma is the core to all of this with Anna going along with her husbands ideals but always ready to take the next step or bring in help from her father - an unseen presence but one known by reputation to the local DA and a figure Abel will avoid turning to. The cast is all great with David Oyelowo playing the attorney in question which rounds off the central trio. In fact these three have been appearing a lot lately and continue to impress. With his banking support becoming shaky and the threats from the competition slowly growing in ferocity, Abel has a long hard path ahead to gain the property he needs to sustain the enterprise legitimately.
Despite the slow burning drama, the film itself is pretty cold and distant at times. The winter atmosphere of 80s New York and the sepia stained visuals are a part of this for sure, but it does seem that things could have done with a little more fire, particularly when they get out of control for the central couple and their relationship begins to struggle. In the end it all boils down to a credit agreement between various parties and the handover of new business premises after all, and that it makes such a dry series of events so engaging is a credit to the storytellers. But this isn't about wise guys, hitmen or protection money despite the trappings; even if Abel's line of work might be looked on as racketeering in a way - one step over the line would take him into that world. Which is something to think over, but more intensity could have gone a long way. While the performances are excellent, the characters come of as a little too cool and collected considering the dangers at hand. Which isn't to say the emotions don't run high at certain key points in the narrative, but more of that would have made it really great. It remains an engrossing, ultra stylish piece of work (accompanied by some great piano and organ instrumentals from Alex Ebert) but I would have liked it even more if it got those hooks in a little deeper.
SHAUN THE SHEEP (2015)
Is it possible to construct an entire film from sight gags alone, and who would want to try such a thing? Well apparently Aardman Animation, who manage to pull it off with considerable success. Easily as good as the Wallace and Gromit movie and The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists, this goes one step further than those by lacking any dialogue at all. It's certainly one way to avoid cliché script moments and obnoxious voice acting I suppose, though I'm certain someone had to sit in a booth recording sheep noises for hours at a time. It's a breezy, continuously amusing feature with a ridiculous story about farm animals trying to get a break from their grazing routine and managing to cause havoc in the local city at which point sequences about evading pest control operatives and rescuing an amnesiac farmer (really) come into play to great effect. The style is charming and the set pieces are imaginative, the silliness might go a bit too far in places but it's just that kind of film.