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Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a New York businessman who cherishes the American Dream with a vengeance. He has it all: a beautiful suburban home, adorable daughters and a smart, attractive wife named Anna (Jessica Chastain). But Morales can’t afford to let down his guard.

That’s because the heating-oil company that has made his lifestyle possible is threatened. Someone — he’s not sure who — is behind a series of brutal attacks on his truck drivers, and at the worst possible moment.

Morales hopes to purchase an abandoned fuel yard that would make it possible for him to dominate the market. But he faces a deadline for closing the deal. And if he doesn’t come up with the funds to do so, he risks losing everything.

Putting even more pressure on Morales is Anna, who’s frustrated with him for not embracing gangster tactics, and an assistant district attorney (David Oyelowo of “Selma”) who suspects that his business practices aren’t exactly on the up and up.

Like any number of businessmen before him, Morales is fast discovering that dreaming big could lead to falling hard.

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call”), “A Most Violent Year” — the title refers to 1981 — must be the subtlest crime film ever made. In fact, it takes a while before it becomes clear that Morales isn’t quite what he appears or aspires to be. This brilliant drama is the anti-“Godfather” — as much about the choice to resist violence as to resort to it.

Isaac, who broke through to stardom in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” is smolderingly charismatic as a man who’d rather not walk a tightrope. Chastain, perhaps the most chameleonic actress working today, matches him for sheer fearlessness. And the always watchable Albert Brooks is impressive as Morales’ no-nonsense lawyer.

“A Most Violent Year” is a far more interesting film than its title implies. And a film you’ve never seen before.


What “A Most Violent Year” • Four stars out of four • Rating R • Run time 2:05 • Content Language, violence