Oscar Isaac plays a wealthy businessman determined to protect his company and family from the city’s organised crime, without turning to criminality and violence – despite pressure from his protective wife, played by Jessica Chastain.
They both excel in their roles, with an intense chemistry between the two in a fairly horrible house. Chastain is a terrifying vision of ’80s ambition, a Lady Macbeth figure from a crime family herself – though the most criminal thing about her is her fingernails.
Isaac channels Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone to tremendous effect, with a fiery depth beneath his cool, dark exterior and soft accent. The Guatemalan-born actor is going from strength to strength, emerging as one of the best around – he showed his musical talents in Inside Llewyn Davis and here speaks some superb Spanish.
This all takes place against the wintry backdrop of New York City, wonderfully photographed by Bradford Young. There’s an authentic attention to detail in the costumes, locations and direction – the enormously talented writer/director J.C. Chandor follows up his almost wordless All Is Lost with this intelligent screenplay, rich in dialogue.
Both films feature a lot of weather and Chandor beautifully captures the elemental fabric of New York. This time it’s the city instead of the sea, snow instead of rain – and relationship-based tension instead of ship-based tension.
But Chandor retains some of the Robert Redford film’s immersive atmosphere, thematic weight and genuine excitement – some brilliantly executed chase sequences and surprising jolts punctuate the prestigious drama.
It’s altogether more generic than the outstanding All Is Lost, but it succeeds through great direction, atmosphere and acting – Elyes Gabel, David Oyelowo and Albert Brooks are all impressive in supporting roles.
In spite of its more familiar elements, this is a textured portrait of early ’80s New York and a man fighting for power there. Invoking everything from Scarface to The French Connection, this has the feel of a ’70s crime picture – and there’s really no higher praise.