In the wintry air of A Most Violent Year, a would-be business magnate named Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) sports a handsome camel-hair topcoat. He’d like to achieve success the honest way, and that immaculate coat is like his shining armor. Problem is, this is 1981-era New York, the business is heating oil, and nothing stays clean for very long here. Writer/director J.C. Chandor is skillful with these details—this is a very intricate story—and quiet in his approach. Abel’s jacket is the flashiest thing about the movie.
Middle of Nowhere (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) – As Selma opens wide to great reviews, Ava DuVernay’s second feature comes to disc, a small story about a woman who put her aspirations on hold when her husband goes to prison. Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) drops out of medical school and takes a nursing job so that she can be at home for daily calls from Derek (Omari Hardwick) and make the two hour bus ride from the Los Angeles suburbs to the prison every week. Ruby’s mother (Lorraine Toussaint) isn’t shy about letting her disappointment show and Ruby spends more time with her sister (Edwina Findley Dickerson), a single mother raising a young boy, to avoid such issues. She believes Derek regrets his mistakes and he probably believes so too, but as he becomes illegible for early parole the reality proves to be more complicated. Which is really what the film is about: life is more complicated than the parameters she has fenced around it. Ruby’s commitment to her husband’s support comes at a cost beyond mere professional success, and his past doesn’t go away so easily.
This isn’t about dramatic revelations and charge confrontations. DuVernay, who also wrote the original screenplay, has made a film about those moments lived between the decisions and is able to show Ruby coming around to see what has been obvious to others. She makes Derek a complicated and nuanced character in his limited screen time—the films stays with Ruby through her story, seeing only what she does—neither judging nor forgiving him as Ruby discovers that his mistakes are not over. The restraint leaves some issues a little vague and unsure, such as Derek’s child from a previous relationship and his past (and present) involvement in the gangs, which can be frustrating, but this isn’t his story. It’s about Ruby and the choices she makes.
The most suspenseful scene in Ava DuVernay’s Selma does not depict the dramatic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, nor an Oval Office facedown between Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Lyndon Johnson. No, the real cliffhanger happens during a twilight domestic scene between King (David Oyelowo) and his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo). The husband’s alleged extramarital affairs are the immediate concern, and at this crucial moment in the civil-rights struggle, two married people must acknowledge a few intimate truths. The storytelling takes a pause, the gifted actors operate on a slow simmer, and Selma conveys a tingly sense of the way the march of history turns on human give-and-take in humble rooms.