A Most Violent Year reviews

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Re: A Most Violent Year reviews

Postby Greg » Fri Dec 05, 2014 8:00 pm

So, Sabin and BJ, did you get to meet each other at the LACMA screening?
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Re: A Most Violent Year reviews

Postby Sabin » Fri Dec 05, 2014 7:45 pm

The Original BJ
But...doesn't it instantly solve the major dilemma of the plot in a manner that feels really easy?

Oh, absolutely which is why he made it a joke. It's awful as a plot device but because earlier on I started to realize that Chandor just wasn't going to make a movie beyond the stakes established early on. Some of the worst scenes in the movie took place immediately before their big scene (the one before him and his brother, the gathering in the restaurant; these are scenes where it truly does feel like every conversation Abel is from the same scene in The Godfather), so it felt slightly like a relief. And more so it drives home the point that everybody views everything as a business, so I think it works thematically. Logically, it's sorta horse shit.

I'll say this: I did not expect J.C. Chandor to look and act like he did at the screening. He seemed like a neurotic mess who talked about things that were not terribly present in the film, he was rambling, and Elvis Mitchell seemed far more interested in talking to Oscar Isaac who gave very clear answers. It speaks a little bit to the divide between how amazing the film's atmosphere is and how Isaac's performance while good occasionally feels plucked from something a little more contrived.
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Re: A Most Violent Year reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Dec 05, 2014 7:13 pm

Sabin wrote:You mentioned the "big reveal" at the end? That's one of A Most Violent Year's best scenes and I wish it dug a little deeper into what it implies about their relationship.


My feelings about this scene sum up a lot of my reaction to the movie. I agree with you that it's one of the best scenes in the movie -- especially in terms of writing and acting -- and I absolutely enjoyed watching it, just as the rest of the audience did.

But...doesn't it instantly solve the major dilemma of the plot in a manner that feels really easy?

I won't say any more -- it probably is more fair for me to give everyone a chance to discuss it when the movie finally opens.

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Re: A Most Violent Year reviews

Postby Sabin » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:49 pm

You mentioned the "big reveal" at the end? That's one of A Most Violent Year's best scenes and I wish it dug a little deeper into what it implies about their relationship. The audience we were with was howling with laughter. Appreciative laughter. It's made even better because the actors were not playing it for laughter at all, but these exchange between Isaac and Chastain in a small glance of a nutshell drives home everything that Chandor is trying to say in this film more than anything else in the movie.

The Original BJ
This is a gorgeously shot movie. (Selma, though handsomely filmed, doesn't have nearly the visual beauty this does, though here's hoping Bradford Young at least gets recognized somewhere for his strong year.

Something I didn't quite end up writing was that for whatever reason it seems as though people are citing Bradford Young for Selma...and then also A Most Violent Year. That's just the tone I'm taking away, that A Most Violent Year is the tagalong. If that's so, then Selma must be the best shot film of the year. I haven't made up my mind yet what the best shot film I saw this year was, but right now it's between A Most Violent Year, Under the Skin, Nightcrawler, Gone Girl, and Birdman, with The Grand Budapest Hotel, Listen Up, Philip, Whiplash, and Guardians of the Galaxy right behind.

The Original BJ
Side question: you think this is a weak Supporting Actress year? It seems to me that there are a lot of strong candidates fighting for space in that field.

I guess if you think that Patricia Arquette is a revelation in Boyhood, then yes, it's a strong field.

I'm going to backpedal from my earlier statements about this not being a good race in two ways: 1) it's miles stronger than Best Actress, and 2) there's a lot of movie star personality in these performances. The race seems to be squared down to four: Arquette, Chastain, Knightley, and Stone. I haven't seen Knightley but I'm going to make a snap judgment that none of these performances are revelations so much as examples of things that we've come to expect from these actors. Even Jessica Chastain, whom we've come to now expect to show us a technically precise example of her already lauded range. And that aspect of this race is pretty cool. Emma Stone especially, who again isn't doing anything I haven't seen her do before, but whose persona is utilized to very strong ways.

I have no idea who the last nominee will be, but I'm guessing it will be one of these two: 1) a really small role like Laura Dern's in Wild, or 2) somebody who haven't heard from before like Carmen Ejogo in Selma. What we're not likely to see is something like Rene Russo in Nightcrawler, an actress we've known for years, in a new chapter of her life, giving us something we've never seen before. Again, if Patricia Arquette seemed like a revelation in Boyhood, then feel free to ignore. Or Carrie Coon or Kim Dickens, who take these fairly ridiculously stock characters and support the atmosphere that David Fincher works so hard to set-up. These are only a few examples and obviously the race is still young and maybe I'm wrong and Coon, Dickens, and Russo will be nominated but I doubt it.
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Re: A Most Violent Year reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:23 pm

I, too, was at the LACMA screening Sabin went to last night, and my reaction to A Most Violent Year was much in line with his. I think J.C. Chandor is a filmmaker of interest, who I wish would help his audiences become a bit more interested in his subjects as he clearly is. Margin Call managed to make a somewhat esoteric subject engaging for much of its running time, but it seemed as soon as it was heading into the (for me, more interesting) human drama, it just ended. All is Lost is a well-put together movie full of precise detail that ultimately didn't seem to have any point. And now we have A Most Violent Year, a beautifully made film that flirts with universal themes, but which doesn't really allow its story about heating oil and real estate to resonate in any larger way.

This is a gorgeously shot movie. (Selma, though handsomely filmed, doesn't have nearly the visual beauty this does, though here's hoping Bradford Young at least gets recognized somewhere for his strong year.) The snowy scenes, especially, just pop off the screen with a palpable feeling of chilliness, and the way Chandor and Young frame their actors in interiors -- often in big rooms but close together -- contributes to the feeling that the world is just a big cavern threatening to devour them. The edits and sound work are also quite effective, obviously in the big action set pieces (wonderfully staged, all of them) but also in the way that they allow violent acts to constantly collide into otherwise seemingly calm scenes in often shocking ways. And I liked the way that the movie really felt like a period piece -- the emphasis on the superficiality of '80's styles is totally appropriate for a storyline about the vapidness of capitalism vis a vis the myth of the American Dream.

Scene-to-scene, there's a lot of good writing, but on the whole I had some issues with how the story all hung together, sometimes in paradoxical ways. I admired the complexity of the storytelling, but there were many occasions when I yearned for a bit more clarity in terms of who all these people were and why they were necessarily making these choices. This, I think gets to the heart of my feeling that the movie didn't add up to as much thematically as it could have -- the movie clearly aspires to be a Godfather-esque crime saga, but it's more interested in the particulars of its subject than the inner lives of its characters, I feel. At the same time, there are a couple story points that I couldn't believe were resolved in as simple a manner as they were, the most egregious offender being the plot reveal in the big Jessica Chastain scene that Sabin cites. For me, this moment (as well as the reveal of who had been buying the stolen oil) fell under "sorry, you need to work a little bit harder for your story there." I also felt like the movie fell under the trap of having characters frequently show up at the right place at the right time to service plot demands -- another case of the movie's complex web occasionally yielding to what I felt were too convenient storytelling turns.

I admired the performances of both central actors. Oscar Isaac, with a totally different vibe from his Llewyn Davis sad sack, does a very commanding job depicting a man who ultimately wants to run his business in a legal manner, but whose ambitions (and competitors) keep getting in the way of that. He's a strong presence throughout the movie, both in the way he carries himself physically, as well as the manner in which he injects emotion into the relatively cold plot surrounding him. I'm much higher on Jessica Chastain than Sabin -- overall as well as here -- and I think her brassy Brooklyn Lady Macbeth is ruthless, but often in unexpectedly funny ways. I love the way she takes charge of the situation once the cops interrupt her child's birthday party, and I enjoy her casual attitude at the top of her big reveal to Isaac, which gives way to frustration when Isaac doesn't seem to respect the fact that she's probably done more to keep their business afloat than he has. She's a very possible Supporting Actress nominee -- and it is pretty clearly a supporting part, rather than the co-lead I'd anticipated -- though maybe I'd re-evaluate my earlier contention that she's as strong a win candidate as I thought. (Side question: you think this is a weak Supporting Actress year? It seems to me that there are a lot of strong candidates fighting for space in that field.)

On the whole, I think this is a movie that looks and feels like a great movie, with the content of a more mid-level one. I wish it achieved more, but I admire its ambitions, as well as a lot of elements, and I think it's well worth seeing.

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Re: A Most Violent Year reviews

Postby Sabin » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:01 am

On quite a few levels, I enjoyed JC Chandor's third feature A Most Violent Year quite a bit. On a technical level, it's fantastic. If Selma looks better than this, then it must be the best shot film of the year. This movie looks gorgeous and it's cut seamlessly, one of the few movies of the year when I genuinely wasn't aware of cuts. While occasionally it teeters on dress-up (and I'll get to that), it's a very rich sensory experience. On a cerebral level, his scenes are written with drama, often withholding information until clearly delivering it, each scene tumbles after the next with [mostly] great inevitability. While it becomes slightly tiresome that everybody speaks in a completely shared code in this film, I liked that everybody in the film represented a business in some way and that the violent acts are due to collisions of interest and almost always between employees. This is a strong idea. And even though about forty-five minutes into the film, I started to figure out that ultimately the film wasn't going to be about more than making this one crucial step in Abel's business career. Fundamentally, that makes it feel a little small which is never a great thing for a movie that carries itself like the most important film of all time. But the dramatic construction of the scenes more than compensated. Whatever my misgivings, I enjoyed watching this film a lot.

What holds me back from real enthusiasm is that however smart JC Chandor was in devising a plot, writing these scenes, and commanding an arsenal of on-set talent to create such an evocation of Coppola/Lumet crime movie while also making it feel like his own, I just can't shake the feeling that he basically cookie-cuttered his characters from other movies that he liked and never went deeper than the clothes they wear. While Oscar Isaac is very good as Abel (ugh) a man who abhors violence and must make it as an honorable man, his character can't help but feel silly once in a while because Chandor doesn't want to demystify him or anybody in A Most Violent Year. He wants to leave things open-ended for these characters, where they came from, how they got here, how they met, etc. At times it feels opaque like a Coen Brothers film, inviting us to look deeper at what we're seeing to the truth lying beneath, but there just isn't that much truth there. The result can feel alienating and so while Oscar Isaac must cling to his beliefs and walk the road set before him, there are times when it just seems like posturing. Instead of telling us about his code, it'd be so much more effective to just hear him say once something about specifically where he came from or explain what a gun means to him. After all, isn't part of doing business truly knowing the person you're doing business with. In A Most Violent Year, everybody is so busy doing business with each other, that you're not always doing business with the film.

I don't think A Most Violent Year is going to get the nominations it deserves. Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Effects are all incredibly worthy. Best Production Design and Best Costume Design are as well, although b/c Chandor skirts dress-up there are moments where the incredible work can feel unintentionally undermined. Nevertheless, a lot of strong personality there. It seems like a weak year for Best Supporting Actress nominees and there's no reason to believe that Jessica Chastain can't get in for this film. Personally, I'm starting to feel pretty let down by her. It's starting to feel like she doesn't give performances as much as act in scenes. I always feel like I'm watching her read lines that she decided long ago how she wanted to enunciate. It's not entirely her fault though. I mean, can you blame her for whatever editing hell Zero Dark Thirty went through? Or trying to give a credible performance throughout Interstellar? Her work in A Most Violent Year is almost all big scenes, and her last big one with Oscar Isaac went over amazing at the LACMA screening I saw today. I think the script fails her a little because an important part of understanding Abel would be for Chastain's character to call him out on his shit once and for all, or at least explain it to another character: clearly, this has been a partnership the entire time and he hasn't registered it...but in a way, that's not a bad thing. If she had a moment like that, I'd say this might be the year she wins. Instead, I just think it'll be another nomination for her. Picture, Chandor for Original Screenplay, and Oscar Isaac for Best Actor are all in the ballpark but they'll probably get crowded out.
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Re: A Most Violent Year reviews

Postby dws1982 » Fri Nov 07, 2014 10:43 pm

Mister Tee wrote:“A Most Violent Year” seems to have been steeped overnight in a solution equal parts Sidney Lumet and Lumet’s consummate latter-day reinterpreter, James Gray.

Difficult to say anything more wrong than this.

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Re: A Most Violent Year reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Nov 07, 2014 8:01 pm

Hollywood Reporter
by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
J.C. Chandor scores again.

J.C. Chandor has made a habit of turning out very good films based on ideas that would hardly set a pitch meeting on fire: Investment bankers in their office dealing with a financial crisis, an old guy lost at sea on his yacht and now men competing for control of the glamorous world of heating oil suppliers. With A Most Violent Year, the writer-director delivers again with a story of dog-eat-dog capitalism set during a notably rough patch in New York City history.

Led by Oscar Isaac, who is superb as an independent businessman trying not to get dirty in a dirty world, this compelling tale will have to fight for any headway in the market but will impress discerning viewers with its skill at dramatizing things that make the world go round but are rarely dealt with except in outright gangster films.

As he demonstrated in his debut feature, Margin Call, Chandor has a knack for making arcane business practices not only somewhat comprehensible, but the stuff of potent human drama. He connects this drama to the American dream and the urge to get ahead in life, but neither in any pompous symbolic way nor to take potshots at capitalism. The new film is a tough-minded, bracingly blunt look at the sometimes debilitating cost of doing business that casts an unblinking eye on the physical, emotional and moral bottom line. By pointedly setting the tale in 1981, said to have been the worst year on record for violent crimes such as rape and murder in the city, Chandor seems to be saying that it doesn't have to be this bad, but this is how badly we have allowed ourselves to behave.

The writer-director peels back the layers of his story and characters with the skill of an expert dramatist. After a startling opening in which a young oil truck driver, Julian (Elyes Gabel), is brutally attacked and kicked out of his vehicle, the polite and immaculately accoutered Abel Morales (Isaac), accompanied by his dour lawyer (Albert Brooks, playing it entirely straight) concludes a major deal with some Hasidic Jews for an oil holding facility by the water in New York; Abel puts some money down and must pay the balance within the month or lose his substantial investment.

From appearances, Abel is a sincere, straightforward businessman who wants to run his Standard Heating Oil company in a proper way and is disgusted by the thuggery that has landed one of his drivers in the hospital. On the other hand, his brassy wife, Anna (JessicaChastain), is the daughter of a Brooklyn mobster who sold the company to Abel, and she's the one who first recognizes that they're "at war” with other members of the small but lucrative world of independent New York oil suppliers — even though there's no clue as to who might be behind the truck hijacking.

Coincidentally or not, there's a great deal about Abel's manner that's reminiscent of the most famous of fictional gangsters at that particular historical moment, Michael Corleone. An immigrant of unspecified background, Abel is short and compact, always impeccably dressed and coiffed, speaks slowly and softly, and exercises his authority by deploying an arsenal of subtle behavioral tricks. But intimidation and coercion are not his thing, and he vehemently resists the Teamsters' suggestion to arm his drivers, arguing that this would just up the ante. When he approaches city officials for help, however, the assistant D.A. (David Oyelowo) informs him he's being charged with multiple offenses, including fraud and cooking the books, the latter one of Anna's inherited specialties.

Just as he effectively tightened the vice on the characters in his previous films, Chandor shrewdly applies the slow squeeze to Abel as the deadline approaches for paying the remainder of the bill for the property that will give him direct access to oil tankers; if he can't come up with the cash, he's finished, which his rivals know. But Abel never loses his head or his cool, which is one of the film's great strengths. In a world where participants expect to play by the rules of the jungle, Abel wants to play it straight; he doesn't share the desire to play rough, shove a competitor aside or run two sets of books when there's clearly enough in the pot for everyone.

Is it out of habit, tradition or merely sheer malice that businessmen try not just to dominate but to ruin their rivals? Is it worth risking prison or a vendetta to knock colleagues permanently out of the race? And who, nine times out of 10, ends up getting the short end of the stick, the big shot or the little guy? Chandor's absorbing and troubling film asks these difficult questions and more against a backdrop of tacitly accepted corruption and street-level New York interaction rarely seen since the heyday of Sidney Lumet. The sense of widely shared assumptions about what's OK and what's not in business dealings is brought home powerfully, and the tension of the final stretch provokes a prolonged case of sweaty palms. The resolution is painful, a bit melodramatic, thematically apt and, for it all, feels just about right.

Whereas Margin Call dazzled with the help of several thespian luminaries, A Most Violent Year gets great mileage out of detailed character work from a very large cast. Good as he was in Inside Llewyn Davis last year, Isaac really breaks through with this performance, which, as indicated, almost uncannily recalls Al Pacino's simmeringly low-key star-making turns in the Godfather films. The roles are, in fact, quite different, as becoming a gangster is what Abel most wants to resist; he is not ruthless and evil at heart, is not emotionally closed-off. But he has an equally high level of self-control and belief in himself, even as his marriage is thrown off balance when crises prove that his wife is much tougher and far less moral than he is.

Cast against type as a thickly accented Brooklyn gal unburdened by her husband's principles, Chastain sharply conveys Anna's matter-of-fact savvy as well as her love for her man and daughters.

Perhaps more than anything, the hulking vintage cars on display (especially in a spectacular traffic jam scene) lend a sense of the visual grossness of the time. The only technical deficiency turns up in the nighttime and low-light scenes, which, as shot by the talented rising cinematographer Bradford Young (Pariah, Middle of Nowhere, Ain't Them Bodies Saints), have a muddy thinness to them, a washed-out look that saps the images of any weight.

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A Most Violent Year reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Nov 07, 2014 12:13 am

Todd McCarthy's Hollywood Reporter review was posted and then withdrawn; it was much in the same vein as this, from Variety. Both especially high on Oscar Isaac.


Variety
Scott Foundas
Chief Film Critic @foundasonfilm

When “New York, New York” lyricist Fred Ebb wrote that immortal line, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” it’s doubtful he imagined the life-or-death stakes such sentiments take on in “A Most Violent Year,” an ’80s-era NYC crime drama in which just making it from one day to the next seems like a major accomplishment. In his third turn behind the camera, writer-director J.C. Chandor has delivered a tough, gritty, richly atmospheric thriller that lacks some of the formal razzle-dazzle of his solo seafaring epic, “All Is Lost,” but makes up for it with an impressively sustained low-boil tension and the skillful navigating of a complex plot (at least up until a wholly unnecessary last-minute twist). Like last fall’s “Out of the Furnace,” this solid, grown-up movie-movie is almost certainly too dark and moody to connect with a broad mainstream public or make major awards-season waves, but it does much to confirm Chandor as a formidable filmmaking talent, and star Oscar Isaac as one of the essential American actors of the moment. A24 opens the pic in limited release Dec. 31.

If Chandor’s promising 2011 debut, “Margin Call,” could loosely be described as a Wall Street transposition of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “A Most Violent Year” seems to have been steeped overnight in a solution equal parts Sidney Lumet and Lumet’s consummate latter-day reinterpreter, James Gray. The setting is 1981, the year of Lumet’s masterful police corruption drama “Prince of the City,” and it’s possible to see a continuity between that movie’s naive whistleblower cop (played by Treat Williams) and Isaac’s upstart businessman here — two virtuous crusaders who put too much trust in fundamentally broken systems. Chandor’s film bears an even stronger likeness, though, to Gray’s little-seen sophomore feature, “The Yards” (2000), which built a similar tale of ambition, free enterprise and moral compromise around an essential Big Apple industry: there, subway parts; here, heating oil. (Indeed, Chandor’s film could easily have been called “The Fuel Yards.”)

But if “A Most Violent Year” hits many familiar notes, it does so in an unusually gripping and effective fashion, pulling you deeper and deeper into the struggles of a young heating-company boss trying to make inroads in an industry dominated by generations-old family businesses (which operate rather like a certain other “family” business). None of this is news to Isaac’s Abel Morales, who started out as a lowly truck driver himself, but somewhere along the way fell in love with the boss’ daughter, Anna (Jessica Chastain), and bought the business from him. And while Anna’s dad was all mobbed up, Abel prizes squeaky-clean transparency.

With the conviction common to the self-made, the born-again and other fanatics, Abel prides himself on forward movement through society’s real and perceived barriers, having shed all but the slightest traces of his immigrant heritage, built his family a sprawling suburban McMansion, and developed strategies for routing the competition with a minimum of dirty tricks. In a striking, Mamet-esque early scene, he coaches a new crop of sales associates on how to make a first impression: Keep eye contact for longer than feels comfortable; ask for tea instead of coffee (the classier option); always be the model of tact and decorum. “We’re never going to be the cheapest,” he advises, “so we have to be the best.”

When the movie opens, it’s clear that Abel’s success mantra doesn’t sit so well with one or more of his fellow oil merchants. While the city at large panics from an all-time-high crime rate (the impetus for Chandor’s title), Abel’s Standard Heating Co. finds itself engulfed in its own brutal turf war, with drivers — and eventually, even sales reps — robbed at gunpoint, beaten, shot at, or all of the above. Even Abel’s own family isn’t safe from harm, as a late-night gun-wielding prowler proves early on. And the timing couldn’t be worse, just as Abel is starting escrow on a long-abandoned waterfront fuel yard that will put him in a real position to corner the market, and a young district attorney (a typically excellent David Oyelowo) launches a massive investigation into heating-industry malfeasance.

Chandor lays out all of this briskly and confidently, always giving just enough information to keep the viewer hooked, while maintaining a certain intentional opacity, the feeling that we’re entering a hermetic world of private codes and backroom dealings that even Abel himself hasn’t fully cracked. The pacing is deliberate yet uneasy, like a slowly tightening noose, with scenes staged mostly in long, wide master shots with a minimum of cutting. But when Chandor feels it’s warranted, he turns up the heat, including a tense shootout on the 59th Street Bridge, and an utterly terrific chase sequence that begins by car, transitions to foot, and ends on an elevated B train hurtling through the outer boroughs. Which makes it all the more disappointing on those rare occasions that Chandor overplays his hand, mostly in a subplot having to do with a panicked young Standard driver (Elyes Gabel) who goes on the lam after his second violent truckjacking.

“A Most Violent Year” may not ultimately tell us anything new about big-city corruption, thwarted idealism and the steep price of admission to the American dream. But it says those things with a kind of conviction that reminds you why ambitious hustlers like Abel Morales keep striving for their imagined piece of the pie against very inhospitable odds. Isaac is marvelous to watch here, playing a character who could give Llewyn Davis a crash course in how to win friends and influence people. We first see Abel going for a vigorous morning jog, and that’s fitting because, for Abel, to take a single step backward in life is a fate worse than death. And Isaac pours that stubborn resolve into every inch of the performance, from his slightly formal, affected speech patterns to his rigid, ramrod-straight posture; he’s like a Horatio Alger hero on steroids.

In most of her roles to date, Chastain has been the ballsy, forward-pushing dynamo, and “A Most Violent Year” is no real exception. Though she’s not quite as well served as Isaac by the script, her Anna is around long enough for us to see that she’s every inch her father’s daughter, and far less religious than Abel when it comes to playing by the rules.

As in “Margin Call,” Chandor has fleshed out the extensive supporting cast with the kind of veteran character actors who seem to bring a lifetime of experience with them when they enter the frame: Albert Brooks, wonderfully weary and resigned as Abel’s in-house lawyer; Alessandro Nivola as the courtliest of Abel’s competitors, practicing his backhand both on and off his Gatsby-sized indoor tennis court; and Jerry Adler (“The Sopranos’” Hesh) as the orthodox Jew landlord who holds the deed on Abel’s future.

The movie is also a triumph of subtle period craftsmanship on almost every level, especially the work of production designer John P. Goldsmith, who has a field day with long-bodied Cadillac coupes and diesel Mercedes, metallic desks and filing cabinets; costume designer Kasia Walicka Mamone, applying bounteous earth tones (with Chastain outfitted by Giorgio Armani); and the great cinematographer Bradford Young (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”), whose widescreen images are retro without ever verging on kitsch, with ungentrified Gotham locations bathed in a crisp winter’s light and swirls of indoor cigarette smoke.


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