The killing and savagery rampant in the world are mirrored in the hearts of people who inhabit it. In A Most Violent Year, written and directed by J. D. Chandor, the ethics and values of Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) are sorely tested in 1981, one of the more statistically turbulent times in New York City.
A self-made man, Abel prides himself on having expanded the home heating-oil company he bought, and running it as a “fair and clean business” without stooping to the moral depravity of his colleagues in the industry. In fact, there’s so much proverbial oil-stained dirty laundry that an assistant district attorney (David Oyelowo) has been given the task of cleaning up the sector; he’s even on the verge of bringing charges against the relatively small empire Abel owns with his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), the daughter of a mobster, who does the firm’s bookkeeping. It’s Saturnine aspiration that prompts him to tell his wife, with a bit of pride, “We’re big enough to be on their radar.”
Abel, often in the presence of his lawyer (Albert Brooks), has put a hefty deposit on a piece of industrial waterfront property that will serve as a fuel-storage and drop-off point and help him grow his business. But the large fly in the ointment is the rash of hijackings of his oil trucks and its valuable cargo. A couple of such incidents debilitate Julian (Elyes Gabel), one of Abel’s drivers, both physically and psychologically.
Abel epitomizes the archetypal ambitious and upwardly mobile CEO, a true Saturnine figure that thrives on details and fears failure more than anything. He likes playing by the rules, or so he professes. And he believes that how one gets to the top – in his case, he aspires to do so honorably and legally, despite his wife’s underworld connections, and even though he’s poached some competitors’ clients in the past – is as important as landing on the pinnacle. Like a mountain goat on the acme, surveying the terrain below, Abel looks with pride at the golden Manhattan skyline from the vantage point of his new distribution center. He’s black and white. And also complicated.
The word “respect,” a Saturnine watchword, pops up frequently in dialog. Abel likes “to own what he uses” – “use” is a Saturnine hallmark of practicality – and pushes aside the option to rent. Although not yet middle-aged, he’s the “old man” Saturnine patriarch who treats Julian with fatherly concern. And the notion of time, Saturn’s bailiwick, figures big here, as they have in Chandor’s previous movies involving selling off assets (Margin Call) over the course of a day, and surviving at sea when each hour brings decreasing odds (All Is Lost). Abel, too, has only a few days to come up with a huge amount of money to fulfill a contract and find the root of the hijackings.
A Most Violent Year, not coincidentally, makes Abel a recreational runner, a solitary Saturnine activity that allows for the possibility of running away from or towards goals, disasters and success. Those sorts of decisions, which help build character, can come from truly turbulent places that sometimes make gangsters out of the best of us.
Archetype: CEO. Ethicist. Self-mastery. Work. Law and order. Principles. Rules. Respect.
Astrology Archetype: ♄ (Saturn)