I watched A Most Violent Year with wife M a year or two ago and liked it – and completely forgot about it. On the flight back, when I am trying to stay awake the full time to readjust back to Seattle time, I am watching it again…
The movie opens in a gritty New York early 1980s setting. We watch a dapper business man put down his entire life savings to secure an option on a property. Shortly after signing the contract, he is called to the hospital where a driver who works for the man was beaten and robbed of his oil truck. The truck is recovered but there are no leads. THe man’s wife suggests her father has power, but the man does not want to involve the father – he wants to do it on his own. The man’s partner (or lawyer) goes to an auditor/investigator to ask for help – but the man can’t/won’t help, and informs the business man that they will be filing criminal charges against him as part of their investigation into corruption in the industry. We now can see the man’s business may be at risk at a time when he has gambled everything yet has only 30 days to make the gamble to pay off. He asks his wife where they are exposed, and she tells him cryptically they follow every industry standard practice.
He is approached at the barber by a competitor, who drops comments about his trucks at a big important park – a jab. Our character is clearly as cool as cucumbers – polished and smooth… We see a moving truck pull into a house, and learn the family (including two young daughters) have moved into a new house. That night, the dog wines. and encounters an intruder. I am liking this movie — it is pulling back the full story slowly, unveiling a dark something underneath….
We now see him training two new young sales boys. He walks them through the process – we are learning that this is truly a cutthroat competitive industry; we also learn that our business man is a skilled salesman. He visits his driver, who is nervous about returning to driving. Cut to his house, where his daughter has found a gun — the man tells his daughter he’ll take care of it (“oh, you better, you’re not going to like it once I get involved”). Albert Brooks’s character shows up and tells him the news from the DA is not good – serious charges coming — and we learn her father originally owned this business and he is supposed to meet with the bankers and to be honest.
He meets with the union rep, who wants to arm the drivers. We learn from this brief conversation that times are more dangerous, and that the businessman started out as a driver. The businessman goes to meet with a mentor about the gun, and the mentor advises him to live in a fortress but he refuses. We learn that the mentor wanted to be ethical, but once he got in he saw why things were the way they were… Another truck is broken into. Albert Brook advises him to arm his men, because the drivers will walk otherwise. We learn that they are really weak and exposed, that he needs to clsoe on his property. Albert Brooks asks him why he wants all this so badly. I am starting to wonder – is Albert Brooks crooked? Is he behind some of the thefts and bad luck that is befalling our protagonist?
He meets with the bankers, and is honest. They ask why the property is important – “access to the river so more access to providers, storage capacity so he can buy when prices are lower, and because he feels it is a risk worth taking to grow.” They hit a deer, she tells him to put it out of its mystery, he hesitates so she kills it (she is ruthless 🙂 but will he have the stomach for what/who they are facing?)… They are hosting their daughter’s birthday, and the police arrive with warrants. She stalls the police, and they hide the files. She says, “My husband is not my father.” We know by now her father was a local hood who grew this business.
The assaulted driver nervously returns to work, the young salesman goes on his first call – he encourages both. THe salesman is assaulted, and the driver is robbed but pulls out a gun, the police arrive and they all flee. He meets with the investigator, who tells the businessman the shooting is bad for him (businessman: “I’ll find him”).
His bankers shows up to tell him they can’t loan him the money: we continue to see that the man is a determined and honorable man in a brutal industry. He approaches the driver’s girlfriend about turning himself in, but the driver ends up running again. (In the car, Albert Brooks states he’d be handling this differently – a sign that he is ruthless?). Cut to the Business man meeting a competitor’s granddaughter about a 1.5M loan (for many years, he has tried to buy the company) – he is offered 500K in unfavorable terms, which he accepts; the investigator offers him a settlement offer because he made the effort to bring in the driver, but the lawyer looks distraught.
The business man asks for more time, and he is given 3 days. Is this hope, or delaying the inevitable? He meets with the competitors in a council meeting, and he says “stop” robbing him. He is told that no one in the group is robbing his trucks – he states he has lost 110K gallons, and no one can store that quantity so “stop.” Cut to the wife running numbers – she has audited through 1975 and not as bad as they thought. “Are you going to go see your little brother and Peter (mentor/competitor)?” She reassures him that it’s all worth it.
His brother is a high school kid – he asks for a signature on a second mortgage on their co-owned apartment building. He is driving and a truck is robbed; predictably, the truck passes and he follows (truck runs stop signs, etc.). The truck turns over, the driver runs (now his jogging we’ve seen pays off), he beats the man and puts a gun to his head, but he can’t shoot and he lets him go, but in a moment of gratitude the man tells him who bought the oil (barf!). Turns out it is the man who’d he’d bumped into at the barber shop – the man agrees to pay 213K. He returns to his mentor/competitor (or is it a competitor?), he asks him for a 600K loan – he will think about it but it is obvious Peter is part of a syndicate and is dangerous to owe money to.
His wife gives him a bank account number with a “lot” of money; he demands to know where it comes from, and she has been skimming for years. He denies it. She yells at him that it is not his good work but her/ruthlessness. He calms down: “I’ll use the money,” and the deal is done. He is wearing a dark suit when he signs the deal. To Albert Brooks, “Did you know about the money?” Yes.
The Driver appears with a gun. He is desperate. “I Have nothing, and somehow you have everything you wanted.” He kills himself, and the bullet creates an oil leak. (The death of his hard working innocence). He meets the investigator to arrange a deal — the investigator agrees, but mentions he’d like support on his political ambitions. He agrees. He has realized that the result is set, it is the path that is most right – and wheeling and dealing is part of it.
I like this movie. It is flawed – it is too easy and convenient of an ending. But it is interesting and entertaning along the way.