Mean, moody and quite magnificent

In its coolness, its stylishness, its ponderous sense of menace, this is as good as anything we ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ about in The Godather trilogy all those years ago. Set in 1981, it’s basically the story of two men chasing the American dream.

The camel-coated Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) has risen up high in the fuel delivery business in New York and wants to go much further. The decidedly more jittery Julian (Elyes Gabel), meanwhile, is one of his drivers.

Abel’s trucks are being steadily robbed by his competitors and Julian is the latest victim of a gunpoint attack. Abel’s problems are further increased when he learns that he’s been investigated by the police for ‘creative’ accounting.

At the beginning of the film, he invests his life savings in a deposit on a stretch of land to expand his business. If he doesn’t come up with the remainder soon, he’ll forfeit that. Will the accounting shadow over his reputation threaten a loan with the bank?

Jessica Chastain plays his wife, Anna. The daughter of a gangster, she has been taken out of the mire by Abel. She dresses to the nines in her secondary capacity as his secretary.

‘The walls of Jericho’ seem to be collapsing around Abel as he goes in search of money, and in search of the people who are threatening to put him out of business.  For two hours of carefully controlled tension, we walk the streets with him, we inhabit his lush home, we watch him trying to stave off cops, robbers and dealmakers.


The title of the film may lead you to believe it’s more violent than it is. It’s really a film about atmosphere, about J.C. Chandor’s measured direction, about Bradford Young’s penumbral cinematography, about Alex Ebert’s resonant score. 

As Abel, Isaac is shaping up to be the new Al Pacino. Chastain – think Ellen Barkin with a longer face – brilliantly conveys the air of a woman who carries the dark echo of ‘the streets’ behind her carapace of sophistication.

It’s a great, great film, totally assured of itself as it takes us from a blue collar world to a white collar one, from the ghettos to high living, from the mean streets of the Teamsters to an immigrant’s search for success against the near-permanent backdrop of intimidation.