In his first film since his debut award winning “Crazy Heart” in 2009, director Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace” draws audiences in through an unsettling yet sentimental atmosphere. Starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, and Woody Harrelson; the ensemble cast pulls their own weight in conveying a story about loss, redemption, and above all, brotherly love. Despite its flaws, the film sticks with you.
Stand Your Ground
Set in Pennsylvania’s Rust Belt, Rodney Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck) has returned home from a tour in Iraq only to find his life spiralling downhill. His father is dying, he is in debt to some unfavourable people, and he has too much pride to work at the steel mill where his older brother Russell (Christian Bale) works to support his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) and Rodney. The younger Baze turns to bare-knuckle boxing in order to make ends meet, an activity in which local crime boss Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is heavily invested. After a drunk driving collision, Russell is sent to jail, leaving Rodney to indulge in his fighting. Rodney is lured into DeGroat’s violent crime ring that has disastrous results. When Russell is released, he takes it upon himself to make sure justice is served.
The performances were spot on. I can’t say this is Affleck’s or Bale’s best work, but they convincingly display a love for one another. “Out of the Furnace” has one bad situation after another and the resulting emotions were conveyed with precision. Russell is heartbroken and remorseful to find the drunk driving victims–one of which was a child–dead. In another scene, Rodney screams about his disillusionment with America after risking his life to defend a country he loves but who doesn’t love him back. Cooper, who rewrote the script based on a similar story by Brian Ingelsby, is very good at creating believable dilemmas afflicting believable, everyman-type characters.
Could he? Should he? Woody.
But it’s Harrelson who steals the show. He’s had experience playing short-tempered Southerners but he really took it to another level in this film; one of his finest works in recent years. Cooper makes excellent use of uncomfortable silences that ironically speaks volumes about the characters. It’s not simply what DeGroat says that’s disturbing, it’s what he doesn’t say. The uncomfortable atmosphere coupled with a dark, dilapidated, and rustic mise-en-scene makes for a dramatic thriller if there ever was one.
One thing I found interesting was the way character development is addressed. The film’s final frame shows Russell sitting alone in his house. At first, it seems random but it really makes audiences think about the the complexity of the character. Did Russell grow as a character? Did he achieve what he wanted, and did his action yield desirable results? While these questions are basically at the heart of almost every film, Cooper addresses them effectively.
Keep it moving along, Cooper.
The main drawback was the long length of the film, more specifically the first act. I understand introducing the characters so audiences can get emotionally invested in them, but it just takes so long for something to actually happen that can be considered remotely climactic. There were also a few scenes that I suppose were to be metaphorical in some way but totally flew over my head. I think some scenes needed to be left on the editing room floor so the audience doesn’t fall asleep too early on.
“Out of the Furnace” shows real characters dealing with real issues that are applicable to just about anyone. Despite the all-star cast, this is not a conventional Hollywood movie. Yes, it boasts Leonardo DiCaprio as producer but trust me when I say that doesn’t change anything. The movie was set and filmed in the declining steel town of Braddock, Pittsburgh, adding a sense of realism and authenticity to the film. The film will be overshadowed by Bale’s and Affleck’s other exemplary performances but is a nice little hidden gem for those wanting a break from the generics of Hollywood.