In a dark and corrupt world, the rich and powerful are the bad guys, while those who strive to bring them down are destined to fail. With sin and vice running wild, the dirty police force are pushed into a war with the criminals they have spent so long supporting. Cymbeline (Ed Harris) is a powerful drug lord that one day decides he no longer wants to pay the police for their protection, pushing both sides to put their financial goals aside and embark in a bitter and desperate battle to rid the world of one-another.
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With this confident drama, J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost) continues to evolve as a filmmaker, giving the mob movie a remarkably thoughtful twist with vivid characters and situations. This film holds us in a vice-grip, cleverly squeezing in on the characters and the audience with both emotional and moral dilemmas. And Oscar Isaac delivers yet another superbly textured performance, this time as a man trying desperately to remain outside the criminal world.
The title refers to 1981, when the crime rate in New York was at an all-time high. Abel (Isaac) has built his heating-oil company into a real contender, but has refused to indulge in the dodgy dealings of his competitors. Which has been difficult since he's married to Anna (Jessica Chastain), daughter of a notorious gangster. Then just as Abel takes out a loan to expand his business even further, he's hit by an indictment from the DA (David Oyelowo), which jeopardises the bank's loyalty. Meanwhile, his rivals' goons are hijacking his tanker-trucks and threatening his family. Although his chief competitor (Alessandro Nivola) denies this. And as things squeeze in on Abel and his lawyer (Albert Brooks), Anna urges them to take illegal action to get things back on track. After all, that's how business works in 1981 New York.
Isaac is utterly magnetic as Abel, a man who rejects the corruption and violence everyone else accepts as part of life. His interaction with an especially feisty Chastain is steely and riveting, as is his relationship with his young protege Julian (Elyes Gabel), a terrified hijacked driver whose storyline takes some surprising turns, some of which are a little obvious. All of the acting in the film is contained and bristling with emotion, giving the characters remarkable layers of texture that make them unusually believable and often startlingly easy to identify with.
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