No question: A Most Violent Year is a powerful film, one of the best I’ve seen in the past year. I was a fan of director J.C. Chandor’s 2011 release Margin Call, and his new film takes a vastly different but equally compelling perspective on capitalism in America.
The story focuses on the expansion plans of a heating oil executive in New York City in 1981, which sounds potentially mundane yet is anything but. Again, this is New York in the early ’80s, ages before new regimes came in to ‘clean up’ the place.
The story is strong, the mood is tense, the cinematography is stunning and the acting is stunning, notably that of the two leads, Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. Both truly disappear into the roles.
One final treat is the song that plays through the closing credits. Titled “America for Me,” it’s a sparse, loosely constructed song by Alex Ebert. Listen below.
You may know Ebert as the lead vocalist of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. But the song here is vastly different from that 12-member collective’s folk-roots-rock sound (they had a hit in 2009 with “Home”). It’s got sharp edges, yet it’s grounded less in rhythm or structure than in feeling. If that sound nuts, just listen. There’s a free-form nature to the song, but it’s absolutely compelling.
Ebert actually scored A Most Violent Year, and “America for Me” came toward the end of the process.
“It was the last thing I did, more or less,” Ebert told the Hollywood Reporter. “I’m watching the movie, and I just get pissed off at the end of the last scene. You have this cauldron of ambition winning out, really, over empathy, and I wanted to react to that.”
“I had this late ’70s beat machine from a friend. I turned it on, started recording, and without writing down lyrics or even a melody, I just started freestyling — letting the melody go as long as it wanted to and end where it wanted to.”
He called the process “liberating,” explaining that he now has “this new economy of artistry, economy of voices, economy of production — for a guy with ten people in his band, that’s an interesting place to have arrived!”