How To Make A Great Mob Movie

Forget Goodfellas and Scarface, there's a new mobster classic on the block. Here director JC Chandor tells us how he did it.

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After exploring financial foul play in Margin Call (2011) and setting Robert Redford adrift at sea in All Is Lost (2013), writer-director JC Chandor steps on to the cruel streets of New York in 1981 with A Most Violent Year, an original take on the wiseguy-gangster genre.

Oscar Isaac is Abel Morales, a struggling heating oil baron, and Jessica Chastain is his mobbed-up wife, Anna.

JC Chandor explains what went right.

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1 | Avoid Tired Mob Movie Scenes

“Oscar’s character [Abel] in A Most Violent Year is, for the most part, a straight-shooter, but he’s still a macho Latin guy living in that rough neighbourhood and would certainly have fallen into the mannerisms of the mob world. I don’t have good enough film knowledge to include direct references to The Godfather [1972] and Scarface [1983], but I am playing off the audience’s expectations that come from those type of films.”

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2 | Don’t Just Show Violence, Explore It

“Ninety per cent of films I’ve been offered have had this real foundation of violence in them. Before making this film, I decided to try to analyse why violence is so compelling, and that led me to crime statistics stating 1981 was the most violent year in New York’s history. People were being abandoned by a city in decay and on the edge of bankruptcy.”

3 | Let The Female Characters See Some Action

“Jessica’s character [Anna] is kind of the devil on Oscar’s character’s shoulder. She was brought up in the business and has the more traditionally masculine role in the movie. She immediately wants to fight fire with fire [when the firm’s drivers start getting robbed and her family is threatened], whereas Oscar’s character wants to fight fire with water, if only for pragmatic reasons.”

4 | Subvert The Clichés

“In the film, there is a restaurant meeting scene, and it’s supposed to play like you think it’s going to turn into a shoot-out. The bartender where we shot it told us that after films like The Godfather came out in the Seventies, people in the heating oil business actually started holding their meetings in these restaurants, like they were trying to re-enact the scenes.”

5 | Remember: Nice Clothes Maketh The Mobster

“We found this tailor in Brooklyn who makes these very conservative, yet very cutting-edge suits. He’s 85 and has dressed three presidents. We had him re-make suits that he was making during the early Eighties and he had a blast. He said, ‘This is the last time that people took suits seriously!’”


A Most Violent Year is out on Blu-ray and DVD from 18th May.

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