A Most Violent Year – Blue’s Beats #1

Blue’s Beats is a new blog series where we break down various nominated feature screenplays by identifying and discussing their important beats.


Today we will be taking a look at writer/director J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year. 


This film is set in 1981, the most violent year in New York City’s history. It follows Abel Morales, the owner of Standard Oil, who is determined to make a name for himself in the heating oil industry. This desire is externally represented by Abel’s goal to purchase a sizable fuel oil terminal on the East River, however he faces several obstacles. On one hand, Standard Oil is being investigated by Lawrence, Assistant District Attorney, for price fixing and tax evasion. On the other hand, Abel’s drivers are being assaulted in their trucks by armed men who then steal thousands of dollars worth of oil. Meanwhile Abel maintains that he wants to run his business without forfeiting his morals or resorting to violence; but in the end, he needs to adapt by sacrificing his morals in exchange for success.   


(Pages 7-8) Abel’s primary external goal that persists throughout the story is to obtain a large fuel oil terminal for his company, Standard Oil. This goal is set in motion during the inciting incident when the current owner of the property, Joseph, agrees to sell him the land. Abel is given 30 days from this point to come up with 1.5 million dollars to purchase the oil terminal, which acts as a ticking clock for the rest of the film. The time limit gives a sense of immediacy to his goal, which later manifests into suspense and obstacles in a variety of forms.   


(Page 35) Up until this point Abel’s trucks and drivers have been robbed, however he has not been personally harassed. That all changes in this scene, wherein Abel engages in a physical altercation with a burglar outside of his house at night. This event gives Abel a heightened and more immediate sense of danger, which in turn influences his course of action for the remainder of the story. 



(Page 60) In the case of this movie, the midpoint is a high point for Abel because he is told that his bank is going to give him a 1.5 million dollar loan in order to purchase the fuel oil terminal. High midpoints are often false highs, because if Abel were to obtain the money so early, then there would be little-to-no story to develop for the remaining half of the movie.



(Pages 84-86) The aforementioned high point is short-lived as the bank later withdraws from the deal because of “three separate serious pending legal cases” (85) against Abel and Standard Oil. This puts Abel in a very time-sensitive situation, as he has about a week to find over a million dollars. Abel’s desperation is reflected in his actions, as he seeks financial assistance from his competitors and accepts an unfavorable loan deal with another bank.       


(Pages 111-113) In this sequence, another one of Standard Oil’s trucks is being hijacked. Abel is in close proximity to the truck and decides to follow it back to the robbers’ employer. However, the truck ends up crashing, and Abel chases and eventually catches one of the fleeing robbers. He has a gun to the robber’s head, but eventually comes to his senses and lets the man go. This sequence really shows Abel’s internal conflict, in that he wants to protect his business by stopping all the robberies, but he will not go so far as to be violent to achieve these professional goals. It can also be considered the climax of the movie as our protagonist makes the choice to confront this obstacle and do something about it.     


(Pages 124-125) Anna, Abel’s wife, reveals that she has been skimming money from the company since the beginning, and tells her husband to use that money to purchase the fuel oil terminal. At first, Abel is furious that she would deceive and steal from him. He initially refuses the money, but later changes his mind and says it is a smart move. This choice to use the stolen money resolves Abel’s primary goal, as well as reveals how he has changed since the beginning of the movie. At first, he was unwilling to sacrifice his morals or use violence for the sake of his company’s success. In the end, it turns out that even he must learn to adapt and sacrifice some of his morals in order for his business to grow and thrive. 


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