Why Was the Violence in 1981 That Inspired “A Most Violent Year” So Significant?

Inspiring the backdrop for J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, New York City in 1981 was significantly more dangerous than it is today. Mob violence spilled out into the streets, rape, robbery and other street crimes ran rampant. According to New York City crime statistics, there were 2,166 murders that year compared to 648 in 2013. John Lennon had been shot in the street a year earlier and the NYPD Police Commissioner Robert McGuire stated that the NYPD’s primary issue of concern was increasing street crime. Gang violence had become so prevalent in parts of Brooklyn that one area in Williamsburg was nicknamed Brooklyn’s “killing fields” for the number of teenagers senselessly killed there.

Mob violence also reached a peak in New York City and was staking a prominent foothold in Queens and Brooklyn. FBI agent Joseph Pistone—otherwise known as “Donnie Brasco”—was wrapping up his six years of undercover work with the Bonanno crime family. Newspaper headlines broadcasted gangster shootouts in bars and corpses of well known gangsters found in basements. The city’s crime rate dropped 5.1% the following year. A trash strike credited to the mob spanned more than two weeks and made the New York streets even grimmer.

Such is the backdrop for A Most Violent Year.