Writer/director J. C. Chandor seemed to come out of the blue with MARGIN CALL/’11, his thoughtful Wall Street meltdown/thriller, superb & insightful. Then, promptly went back in with two hours of Robert Redford battling storms at sea. (ALL IS LOST/’13, not seen here.) Third up was this poorly chosen drama about systemic corruption in the New York heating oil racket back in the bad old 1980s. (Now, there’s a topic to stop traffic!) With a visual palette covered o’er with ochre scum to capture the fractious mores of a dark era in the city (and of the principals), the film aims for a Francis Coppola/Sidney Lumet vibe and gets the worst of both. (Late Coppola narrative fatigue; Early Lumet assumed moral superiority; plus lead Oscar Isaac making like Al Pacino as homage.) In its drab manner, the film slowly pulls itself together by the third act, as Isaac grovels to keep a major deal afloat while his drivers & delivery trucks are attacked by unknown agents; and an Asst. D.A. builds a case against his fast-growing company. David Oyelowo is just great in this role, but doesn’t get the screen time he needs until he scores in a late, ambiguous scene alone with Isaac. Instead, we get a little too much of Jessica Chastain’s supporting secretive wife/opaque business partner, and from company lawyer Albert Brooks in a fright wig. Flaws & all, it’s worth sticking with as Chandor is the real deal in spite of dramatic miscues*, and the film improves as it goes on. But a little more consideration of his audience when picking topics might help his films (and Chandor’s career) from going back into the blue.
DOUBLE-BILL: A similar sort of company war, but between rival ice cream truck operators, mostly played for subtle laughs, was the inspired subject of Bill Forsyth’s gorgeous COMFORT AND JOY. A forgotten Christmas treat with a tremendous turn by Bill Paterson in the lead.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *In theory, this ought to pair nicely with James Gray’s pics on morally strained conflict between ethics, family-run business & the low-level mob (THE YARDS/’00; WE OWN THE NIGHT/’07), but unlike Chandor, Gray ain’t the real deal.