A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Mark
The film is set in New York City in 1981, the most violent year in the city’s history 2,228 murders; 5,405 rapes; 60,329 aggravated assaults; 1,029,749 property crime; 133,041 vehicle thefts; 112,273 robberies; 360,925 burglaries; 535,783 larceny thefts.
Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is on a jog in a snowy Queens, New York. Simultaneously, in Staten Island, a driver of an oil transport truck named Julian is attacked on the highway by a man named Louis Servidio and his thugs. They physically assault him and steal his oil truck.
Meanwhile, Abel and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) visit the Standard Heating Oil parking yard. They sign a document and in exchange, get a briefcase filled with $700,000 cash. Abel walks to a neighboring oil tank farm, meeting his lawyer, Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks). A group of Hasidic Jews arrive and they all go to an office on site. The leader of the group, Josef, asks why Abel wants the land since it doesn’t contain oil; Abel says he wants to grow his business. There is discussion and we learn that Abel has been trying to get this property for a long time. Josef reminds Abel that he has 30 days to close the transaction if he can’t, they keep the money and they sell the land to a competitor. In the parking lot, Abel stays behind to admire the view the lot is on the East River with Manhattan on the other side.
Abel drives to his country house that is being renovated for him and his wife to move into. As he admires the home, he is interrupted by a Standard Heating oil delivery truck in his driveway someone is there to report on the stolen truck.
Abel gets to the emergency room and sees Julian, reeling from the beating he took when the truck was stolen. Anna is there and she pulls Abel outside to ask if he was able to secure the property he tells her the deposit was received and they have 30 days. Anna mentions that it’s not fair that Julian was attacked and that they are at war. She suggests talking to her brother but Abel tells her to leave him and her father out of it. Abel then goes back in the hospital room and chastises the criminals who beat Julian up and robbed him.
Abel gets to a parking lot where the transport truck has been towed to. The cop on site tells him he can’t take it until the owner files a claim form in Corona. Abel asks if the officer has tried to look for fingerprints but the police officer replies, “These guys always wear gloves.” It’s clear the police aren’t going to help. The cop says his shift is up and then goes to leave. He asks Abel why someone stole the truck and Abel tells him they stole the $6,000 of fuel that was in it.
Abel drives to the Standard Heating truck yard while Anna works in the office, using a pencil on an adding machine because her nails are too long.
Abel and Andrew talk to the Assistant D.A. about their trucks being robbed. The A.D.A., Lawrence (David Oyelowo), tells him the entire bulk-fuel delivery industry is being investigated and that the issue is no more urgent than the increasing number of other crimes. Abel butts in, telling A.D.A. Lawrence that his drivers are at risk, that this has been going on for two years, he has been complacent, and he asks if they know who is robbing them. A.D.A. Lawrence tells him that someone who steals 8,000 gallons of heating oil is someone who works in the industry because they would need local storage capacity. He then lets him know, out of respect, that Abel’s company has broken a law and they are going to be bringing a case against him. He asks why Standard Heating Oil is getting robbed three times more than any other company, asking whether he’s doing something different like entering a new market. Abel tells him, “Every new market is a difficult market.” He points out that his driver was robbed in daylight in front of several police officers and toll collectors and yet nobody saw something. The A.D.A. replies that a lot of problems come across his desk every day.
At the Standard Heating Oil office, Abel tells Anna that they are going to be charged on Monday. Anna tells him they follow standard industry practice on every front and she needs to know what they are saying they did. Abel doesn’t know yet.
Abel visits Julian in the hospital. He helps him back to his apartment. There, Julian asks if he can work in sales (since he is afraid to be a driver again). Abel doesn’t think he’s ready to work in sales yet. Julian asks if it was the sixth truck that was robbed; Abel tells him it was the seventh.
Abel is getting his haircut in a barbershop in Brooklyn. One of his competitors, Arnold Klein, spots him and enters. Arnold congratulates Abel on securing the site and reminds him he only has 30 days to close. Arnold then says he saw his truck in Rego Park and tells Abel his father struggled for years before he broke in there. Abel tells him “Any new market is a tough one.” He exits the shop.
On a morning jog, Abel is almost hit by a large truck but he quickly moves to the side of the road. He realizes it is moving vans headed towards his home Anna and Abel unpack and make a toast to their new house.
At his daughter’s soccer game, Peter Forente (Alessandro Nivola) approaches Abel and asks about the robbery. Peter mentions it’s been two months since the last incident. He then mentions seeing one of the Standard Heating Oil trucks in his part of town, a new territory for Abel, who mentions that he picked up some new accounts. Peter welcomes him to the neighborhood.
Andrew surprises Abel at his house to tell him that the D.A. is confirmed to be coming after them. Anna is brought into the conversation; she says they follow standard industry practice on every front but seems to hint that they don’t. Andrew admits they have made some accounting errors on the sly but says the attention is a badge of honor because it means their company is getting big enough for them to care about. He also tells Abel and Anna that the drivers are all voicing concern for their safety.
Late at night, the family dog begins to growl at something outside. Abel grabs a baseball bat and goes outside where he spots Louis Servidio, who he thinks is a burglar. They get in a scuffle and Abel chases Louis into the woods. Louis is able to escape in a get-away van. Abel returns to the house, where Anna is waiting. She takes him inside and dresses his wounds; Abel thinks it was just a random robber but Anna thinks it was someone sending a message. Abel tells her it was just some kid and he won’t be coming back.
The next day, Abel trains a group of sales recruits in the Standard Heating Oil office. He gives them specific sales tips including making eye contact and always taking the more expensive option to drink this makes the buyer think they only want the best, hence their trucks are the newest and cleanest and their drivers more approachable. Abel is pulled away but not before giving one piece of advice after showing how much they can save, he tells them to stare at them, longer than they should, and they will only keep this job if they close. Abel tells them the other companies are ripping them off and he doesn’t think that’s funny… he is interested in growing this company so when the recruits look the buyer in the eye, they are telegraphing that they are telling the truth.
Abel is now in a staff meeting; he gives a pep talk to the drivers about rising above the danger and tells them they’ll all have new radios so they don’t have any blackout areas and can always remain in contact. A driver asks about more active options (i.e., gun protection) but Abel confirms the radio is the only action he’s taking.
Anna is getting her mail and she notices her daughter playing by the front door with a handgun. She asks the daughter where she got it and she points out that she went to get a ball and found it underneath the porch. Anna surprises her husband at work, setting the gun on the table and telling him their youngest daughter was playing with it loaded with the safety off. She chastises him, telling him this is not a brick in a car window or an innocuous warning now it is their daughter playing with a loaded gun. Abel interrupts, telling them he knows what the charges are going to be rigging scales, under-reporting income and that they are going to owe money no matter how they respond. Andrew suggests meeting with the bank and tells Anan to go over the books (she is the accountant).
The head of the union, Bill O’Leary, comes to meet Abel at the oil yard and tells him the men are being picked on because they are vulnerable; Abel says it’s because his business is expanding. Bill seems to suggest securing the men with guns. Abel says he can help by trying to find out who is behind the robberies.
Bill talks to Andrew about the drivers being secured with guns -- but he can only secure fake permits which he thinks will be fine since they are just being used to scare away robbers. Andrew says he will talk to Abel about it.
Anna finds her bookkeeping books in her garage. At the same time, a Standard Heating Oil truck is blocked in a driveway by a rival oil truck with a note on the back that says “Engine trouble, be back later… Fuck you.”
Andrew tells Abel that another truck was taken and that it’s starting to have a financial effect on them. Andrew says the teamsters could shut their business down if the drivers walk and that securing them with handguns is the best way to go. Abel tells him if one of the drivers shoots somebody, he will be the one brought down. He tells Andrew that his entire savings is at risk with the deposit and that he’s wanted the neighboring site for five years, wanting to grow the business. Andrew tells them they need to take the risk, secure the drivers with protection so they continue to show up for work.
Anna and Abel have dinner with the president of their bank; they try to assuage them that they’ll be able to pay off any fines that they’ll be charged with and can move forward and still be profitable. They ask if the bank will continue to stand by them and they are told yes but asked why Abel wants the neighboring property. He explains that it will give them direct access to the river, has over 10 million gallons of storage capacity so he can buy when the price is low and sell it to competitors when it’s high. He admits he wants to control his fate instead of being in the same place his whole life.
Abel and Anna are driving home, discussing the meeting, when a deer runs into their car. They get out of the vehicle and Anna tells Abel to put the deer out of its misery. Abel gets a tire iron but can’t bring himself to kill the deer. From behind him, Anna uses a small handgun to shoot the deer dead. At home, Abel asks Anna about her gun she tells him she isn’t going to stand around and let people come and get her and her children, adding “Unlike you who seems to be totally comfortable just standing around like some fucking pussy, I did something about it.” She admits she doesn’t have a permit and he explains to her that she’s an idiot because of the risk that will come with using it. He tells her, despite all the fancy things he’s bought her, she still lives as if she was the Brooklyn corner-store gangster’s daughter that she is. He strong-arms her into showing him the weapon and then tells her whores use guns like that. She slaps him. He says the gun is a trap and she tells him he needs to protect them.
The next day, Anna is throwing a birthday party for one of her daughters when the police arrive with Assistant D.A. Lawrence and a warrant. Abel and Anna exchange looks and he runs off. Anna talks to the Assistant D.A. about giving them five minutes to extract the party guests from the home. He gives her permission.
Anna and Abel move the file boxes onto the deck. He asks why she’s hiding her books and she says she doesn’t want them to go through them before she has had a chance. They hide the boxes underneath the deck.
Moments later, Anna hands out goody bags to all the parents as they leave. She then gives the officers permission to search her house. While they work, she goes outside and talks to the Assistant D.A. Lawrence, telling him nothing will turn up in the search her husband is an honorable man and now they’ve been embarrassed in front of their friends. Lawrence mentions her father and she tells him that her husband and father are two different people, adding “If I were you, I would start treating us with a little more respect or my husband will make it our only mission to ruin you. This was very disrespectful… and you are not going to find a fucking thing.”
The next morning, Abel talks to one of the sales students, who is going to be making his first call by himself that day. Abel reminds him to hold eye contact longer than feels comfortable. Julian returns to the office and is about to head out to Manhattan for his first day back as a driver. He admits to feeling vulnerable and Abel tells him he is but the times will get better and safer and that he is stronger just by going.
Alex gets to his appointment in Queens, selling to a woman in her forties, while Julian is driving an oil truck into the city. These scenes are cut back and forth Alex goes through the procedure he was taught when the woman’s husband comes home. Alex is asked to look at the exhaust chimney. But when he goes to enter the basement, he is knocked out. Meanwhile, Julian is moving across the 59th Street Bridge, waning off of paranoia, when he sees the thugs from before coming for him. Julian calls on the CB radio that he needs help and that they are coming for him again. He decides to pull out a handgun that he has stashed under his seat he jumps out of the truck and aims it at Louis and the thugs. Traffic stops on the bridge and everyone begins honking. Julian’s gun goes off by accident. One of the thugs tries to rob the truck and Julian fires his gun again. Louis then fires at Julian to protect the thug. Oil leaks out of a bullet hole on the side of the truck. The police approach and the thug runs off. Julian hides in front of the truck and Louis runs past him, telling Julian to run for it. The two run across the bridge and then sneak into a stone anchor structure. They lock the door behind them and race down the stairs. Louis lambasts Julian for having to be the hero instead of letting them take the truck. Julian shouts back, “Fuck you.” Louis gives him advice on how to sneak out without being detected. Julian follows the directions and runs until he gets to a door; he exits by an esplanade where people are jogging. He hides the gun in his coat.
Alex awakes to find himself in the back of a large dump truck. He cannot get out. The truck leans backwards and he slides out into a pile of garbage.
Abel goes to meet Peter Forente at his mansion, finding Peter playing tennis on his court. He asks Peter who is doing this, explaining that someone came to attack his wife and kids at their home. Peter mentions his father, an old-school gangster, and all of the thugs that used to invade his house when he was a child. Abel says he is going to ask for a meeting attended by anyone who has more than 20,000 gallons of storage capacity. Peter tells him he will help secure everyone.
When Abel gets back to his car, he hears discussion on the CB radio about shots fired and the truck abandoned. He is told about the accident on the bridge.
Abel goes to meet with A.D.A. Lawrence, explaining that he had nothing to do with the handgun. Lawrence tells him to bring in Julian or both of them will be in trouble because Lawrence is in charge of cleaning up the oil industry and this looks bad on him.
Alex walks the streets of Queens until he gets to his car, which has the windshield smashed in.
Abel gets to the oil yard where the bank president is waiting for him to tell him he won’t be getting the loan the committee met that afternoon and won’t meet again for weeks. Abel points out he paid off his first loan to him eleven years ago he had seven years to pay him back and did it in a six months. He reminds the bank president the 40 percent he put down on the deposit is his whole savings. The bank president reminds him he has 16 counts of misconduct pending, in addition to the report that he has armed his drivers, which led to a shoot-out on the 59th Street Bridge. Abel is adamant he has nothing to do with the handgun; the bank president believes him but points out there’s nothing he can do. As he leaves, Alex appears, in bad shape.
At home, Anna is in tears she wants to find Julian to prove that Abel is innocent. He tells her the bank has refused their loan and that they need to find the money somewhere else. She points out they only have two days.
The entire family is now driving on the highway Anna grows impatient as the girls fight in the backseat, annoyed at their pettiness during what, unknown to them, is a huge ordeal. Abel pulls the car over and yanks his eldest daughter out of the car. They bicker with her accusing him of being obsessed with his business like he’s saving the world. He tells her that he wanted to be in a business that involved the last bill people stop paying when they’re low on cash because staying warm is so important. The family continues on their way, now drenched in somberness.
Andrew goes to Julian’s apartment. His wife is there and says Julian is not but he is actually behind a doorframe. Andrew transports him to an empty parking lot with Abel and a driver. He talks to Julian about their next move; Abel is going to turn Julian in. Julian tells him he knows things. Andrew tells him there is nothing for him to gain if he tries that tactic. He asks about the gun and Julian says he threw it in the river. Andrew confirms that Julian’s never been arrested and tells him that the banks won’t give Abel a loan because of the risk and that Abel is going to lose everything on his deposit. Julian is told he has been fired but he has a lawyer waiting for him, paid by Abel. Julian is led to police officers but first apologizes to Abel, telling him he is not strong. Before he gets to the cops, Julian turns and starts running away. He hides.
Abel meets with Josef again, asking for more time. He is given three more days.
Andrew meets with the Assistant D.A. at his office. Lawrence appreciates their assistance in bringing in Julian and Andrew apologizes for Julian running off. Lawrence provides an offer for Abel to consider. He then pulls Andrew aside and asks him to get the warfare to stop because it’s looking bad on him, telling him that whatever Abel is doing to bring the shit on him needs to stop.
Abel and Andrew meet up Andrew presents him the plead deal from Lawrence, which would require him to accept a felony charge. Abel scoffs at this. Andrew tells him that Lawrence is going to set them up with Bill O’Leary for a meeting but stresses that Julian can’t have anything on them because they can’t make a deal if something new comes up.
Abel visits Julian’s wife and speaks to her in Spanish, telling her he needs to turn himself in. Midway through the conversation, Julian comes running out of a cabinet he was hiding in and rushes out the front door. Abel yells at his wife, telling her there are other people looking for Julian and he is the best option he has. Outside, Andrew chases Julian.
In a conference room, Abel meets with Loraine Lefkowitz, the granddaughter of a man named Saul. She has been left his business and knows Abel has tried to buy it several times over the years but tells him it is not for sale. He tells her he’s actually here about a deposit he has on the Bayfront terminal and that he is looking for a loan of $500,000. He is asked to wait outside while she talks it over with Saul. He is brought back in and Loraine tells him they can offer him $500,000 at 20 percent for a year as well as a five-year straight wholesale holding agreement for 250,000 gallons a year at his new facility. Abel agrees.
That night, all the oil competitors meet at an Italian restaurant. Peter Forente speaks on everyone’s behalf, claiming they’ve all talked and no one there is behind all of the robberies; he suggests a smaller provider is responsible. Abel says they have stolen 110,000 gallons of fuel over six months and the people in attendance are the only ones within 200 miles who can purchase and store that amount. So, regardless of them lying to each other, one or more people in the room are responsible for the crimes either buying from the thieves or hiring them to do it. He asks them to stop.
Back at home, Anna is looking over her books, saying it’s not as bad as she thought. Abel tells her he got them three more days and part of the money from Saul but they still needs one million more. He says he is going to visit his brother and Peter. Anna tells Abel it’s all worth it. They say “I love you” to each other.
Abel drives to the office but on the radio, he hears one of his drivers shout out that two guys are coming at him. It is taking place down the street from where Abel is and he quickly spots his driver on the side of the road. He follows behind the truck in an industrial neighborhood. Louis Servidio notices he is being followed and he leads Abel on a high-speed chase. They go through a rail yard and into an abandoned tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, Abel almost collides with the truck, which has flipped over. The driver is killed but Louis takes off running. Abel grabs a gun from the dead driver and chases after Louis. He follows him into a subway station and gets onto a train right as the doors shut. He enters other cars, looking for Louis. When the train doors open, he pushes Louis out and they collapse on the platform outside. The train takes off and they are left alone. Abel threatens him with the gun, demanding to know who he works for. Louis refuses to tell and Abel tells him to stop robbing his trucks. He lets him go, with the thankful Louis sharing a clue about the buyer being in Far Rockaway.
Abel goes to the barbershop where Arnold Klein is waiting for him. He asks to be left alone and then tells Arnold he owes him $213,000 for all that he’s stolen from him over the last six months. He has been marking his trucks for the last two weeks and they’ve all turned up at Arnold’s Far Rockaway facility. Having been found out, Arnold agrees to repay $213,000 but claims to only be buying the stuff. Abel says his goal was to have Arnold out of business by the end of the next year but if he’s that desperate, it won’t take that long. Abel tells Arnold that if he doesn’t have the money by the next day, he will have the feds arrest him.
Abel watches his young brother practice football at his university; he asks him to sign off on taking out a short-term mortgage on their apartment building. It is worth $210,000, which doesn’t seem like much to his brother. He signs. Abel then stops by Peter Forente’s place; he asks for a loan of $600,000. Peter tells him he respects his business sense, which is why he’s never come after him for poaching his customers but borrowing that much money puts Abel in a dangerous position if he is not able to repay the loan. It will put Abel on the radar of gangsters. Abel is told to sleep on it.
Abel goes home and talks to Anna about his day. He realizes that, despite avoiding being a gangster his whole life, by making this deal, gangsters will control him. Anna tells him about a bank account with $600,000 since 1971, she has been skimming money out of the company in case times got tough. It can replace Peter’s share of the money so he isn’t a part of the deal; she can clear it on the books. He is reluctant to use it and she tells him he acts like he’s where he is because of hard work, good luck, and charm but it was actually her putting money aside that made the business work. He goes upstairs and thinks about it. He decides to use the money.
The next day, the deal is closed. Andrew admits to having known about the money that Anna has skimmed from the company. The three of them go to take a tour of the new property but are stopped short by Julian who is holding the handgun he has secretly kept in his possession. He tells them that he has nothing and nowhere to go. He asks them to take care of his family and then puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. Blood goes all over the fuel tank.
A.D.A. Lawrence arrives on the scene. He asks Abel if he knew the suicide victim and he says he does. Lawrence teases him about chasing hijackers. Abel asks if they found the driver and Lawrence says they probably won’t. Abel then tells him he won’t accept a felony charge because he’s not a felon but suggests they come to some sort of conclusion. Lawrence asks about closing on the new property and Abel tells him they’ve been working on it for a long time. Lawrence tells him it will put them in a powerful position and if he can get it up and running again, it will have significant influence politically speaking. He tells Abel he’s come a long way in a short time and Abel says he has always chosen the path that was “the most right” and that is what his current path is. Lawrence says, “I hope so.” They both look out at the view of New York City across the East River.