Of all the classics that may have influenced JC Chandor in his restrained and (intentionally) unglamorous "A Most Violent Year," the one I care the most about is "The Godfather 2." At its heart, AMVY is a story about immigrants and their American Dream. The lead character Abel Morales (yes, both parts of the name are symbolic), played by Oscar Isaac who is half Guatemalan and half Cuban, represents all those first-generation immigrants who seek their fortune on the New World.
It is marvelous that Chandor chose a more obscure period and subject than the Gold Rush or cross-continental railway. This is reminiscent of "Chinatown," which was about water supply to Los Angeles.
I have very superficially talked with some friends about being an immigrant and the feeling of in-between. On the one hand I am trying to accept this identity for myself and all the baggage that comes with it. On the other hand, I really don't want to oversell this line. Maybe the immigrant identity is just a convenient vessel to hold the sense of being an outsider. Nothing new, nothing particular, nothing unique.
It only recently occurred to me that living between two established societies gives one a kind of freedom to build one's own framework of living. It is easier to discard social and cultural traditions and expectations from either side if you don't like it. One is left with a lot less space for certainty and a lot more for exploration. This space is also suggested in AMVY.