Fraud in Film: "A Most Violent Year"

Fraud and corruption find their way into movie plots quite frequently these days. Just two years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio starred as a notorious con man in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” an Oscar nominated motion picture that was controversial yet popular among movie-going audiences.

More recently, a lesser-known film has become noteworthy for the undercurrents of corruption and financial crime central to its story. “A Most Violent Year,” written and directed by J.C. Chandor, takes viewers to New York City in the early 1980s, when crime was rampant and the mafia still exerted Al Capone-ish influence on various elements of the local economy.

Chandor had previously directed “Margin Call” and “All is Lost,” both standout films that won critical praise. “A Most Violent Year” has similarly garnered positive reviews that laud the director’s style and vision that help to create a riveting, suspenseful dramatic feel without being overbearing or heavy-handed.

“A Most Violent Year” debuted in November at the AFI Fest and was released in theaters in December. It is now available on DVD, and both crime drama fans and fraud fighters alike will find a lot to dig into with Chandor’s latest work.

The film revolves around several major figures:

  • A heating oil business owner who tries to balance the success of his business against the violence and theft committed against company and employees on a regular basis;
  • A district attorney driven to stamp out corruption and various crimes being committed in the city;
  • A group of investors through which the business owner seeks to expand his business;
  • A corrupt labor union leader, the Mafia, and all other manner of criminals and shysters

In short, the film follows a determined immigrant entrepreneur struggling to stay on the right side of the law while building an industrial empire. Without giving away too many key plot points, suffice to say that the film takes a nuanced, complicated look at where business ambitions and deal-making blur, sometimes violently, into criminal enterprise. The New York Times delivered an eloquent (and very positive) review of “A Most Violent Year” shortly after its release – read it here. The link also includes a scene from the movie, with narration from Chandor.

In a certain way, the film reminds us that 1981 wasn’t so long ago – this is no whimsical look back at Prohibition-era crime with colorful – albeit violent – gangsters. The crime in “A Most Violent Year” is more anonymous, yet just as deadly. Fraud isn’t just about people cashing bad checks or changing financial statements, then going to a federal prison for white-collar crime. In some varieties, it includes larceny, threats, intimidation and violence.

What do you think of “A Most Violent Year,” or Chandor’s earlier work, “Margin Call?” We invite you to share your own thoughts in a comment below.