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Writer-director J.C. Chandor obviously likes to put characters in dicey situations and watch them scramble.

In his first film, “Margin Call,” he followed a group of bankers who suddenly realize their business — and the entire economy — is tanking. In his second, “All is Lost,” Robert Redford played a man alone, far out at sea, whose boat is slowly falling apart.

Now Chandor has “A Most Violent Year,” about Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a businessman who runs a heating oil business in New York City in 1981, the most violent year in the city’s history. Abel, though he looks cool in a camel-hair overcoat, is scrambling plenty.

First, he’s locked into buying a riverside property that will expand his business. Unfortunately, he only has a few days to borrow or find the big money he needs to close the deal, or else he loses the big money he’s put down. This is complicated by the fact that his heating oil trucks keep getting hijacked and his drivers now want to carry guns.

Making matters worse, Abel is being investigated by an ambitious assistant district attorney (David Oyelowo), since most heating oil companies are corrupt. Hopefully, Abel’s wife Anna (Jessica Chastain, in an icy turn), who has gangland relatives, has been keeping the books clean.

And so Abel scrambles, trying to hustle money and beat his loan deadline any way he can while still keeping his business afloat, his employees safe and his wife happy.

Isaac channels the eerie calm of “Godfather”-era Pacino and the film looks and feels something like a ’70s Sidney Lumet film. But Sidney Lumet films (think “Dog Day Afternoon”) had a way of sizzling and then exploding in your face time and again. In “A Most Violent Year” most of the sizzle merely fizzles.

tlong@detroitnews.com

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“A Most Violent Year”

GRADE: C+

Rated R for language and some violence

Running time: 125 minutes

“A Most Violent Year” (R ) Oscar Isaac plays a man trying to keep his heating oil business alive in NYC in 1981, with Jessica Chastain as his wife. A lot of scrambling about, but lacking in fire. (125 minutes) GRADE: C+

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