Abel Morales wants to pursue the ‘American dream’ the right way. However, his pushy wife Anna thinks otherwise. She is the daughter of the Brooklyn mobster who sold his small Heating Oil business to Morales in the first place, and Anna is well aware that if they are to be successful they will first have to effectively deal with thugs who run competitive businesses by far means and foul. Mainly the latter.
It’s obvious from the start of the movie when yet another of Morales’s tankers are hijacked and the driver is badly beaten that whoever is behind these incidents means to put the Morales out of business. As Anna keeps nagging to remind him, they are effectively at war. The trouble is they are not quite sure who with.
It’s the 1980s and in a crime-ridden New York City it is tough for a business like Morales not to have to resort to play dirty tricks to survive. He has signed the biggest deal of his career to date when he agrees to buy an Oil Terminal from a group of savvy Hassidic Jews, and if fails to complete the purchase on time he stands to lose everything, including the oversized ‘macmansion’ he has just bought in the suburbs. When news of the deal goes public, then the campaign of terror against him is stepped up to try and ensure that he will not have enough funds to close the deal.
If that is not enough trouble, the Assistant D.A. is out to make a name for himself and be seen to be cleaning up the ‘dirty’ oil industry and is looking to charge Morales with multiple offences. This includes fraud and cooking the books, the latter being one of Anna’s more accomplished talents.
This taut multi-layered tale of corruption and treachery is the third feature from writer/director J.C. Chandor who made such a splash with his debut movie Margin Call in 2010 that became a sleeper hit. Chandor keeps the tension packed until the final credits roll when Morales, determined to keep to the moral ground, realises he has to be tougher than both the thugs out to ruin him but also his wife who has no problem at all resorting to whatever it takes to keep her family together and the business in tact.
With a really compelling performance from Oscar Isaac looking more like a new George Clooney matinee idol in every movie he stars in, who with his heavy Brooklyn accent is perfectly cast as Morales. He has such a commanding presence and its clear to see how he has jumped up into leading man status since his breakthrough performance in Inside Llewyn Davies. Plus Jessica Chastain forsaking her copper tresses and going bossy blond, is splendid as the matter-of-fact tough cookie Anna.