Friday, December 6, 2013


Director/writer Scott cooper’s OUT OF THE FURNACE is a film which takes place in the so-called Rust Belt of Western Pennsylvania; an area of declining steel-industry towns where good natured blue-collar folk scratch out a day-to-day living, while inbred hillbillies live off-the-grid in the mountains and run illegal fight clubs to fund their drug running. Such a backdrop is worth mentioning right away because it is large enough to be its own character, and no other setting could be used for the many themes in OUT OF THE FURNACE.
Russell (Christian Bale), a steel worker, and his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), an Iraqi war veteran, scratch out a living in an economically depressed area while caring for their dying father. When Rodney gets into debt with a local loan shark (Willem Dafoe), he enters a bare-knuckle fight club run by the ruthless Harlan (Woody Harrelson). When things go wrong for Rodney, Russell and his uncle (Sam Shepard) decide to take matters in their own hands despite the disapproval of his ex girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), and the local sheriff (Forest Whitaker).

OUT OF THE FURNACE is a film with a lot going on despite the simplicity of the plot. This is a morality tale about how dark of a place people will go, underscored with a lesson of how this country treats its veterans when they return home from war. The themes work well throughout mostly because of the great work Scott Cooper does in fleshing out not only the characters, but the environment they populate. The area they live in paints a bleak picture of life, and because of that the characters have little to hold onto but each other. Ultimately this is a story about family, centered around two brothers, and it consistently pays off through every twist and turn OUT OF THE FURNACE takes. This is a film that is all heart.
Director Scott Cooper paints his frame in drab colors which adds to the hopelessness of the backdrop. There is a certain beauty about it, and you simply cannot take your eyes away from it. Pacing is very even and the music is tremendous. Cooper seems to be hands-off with his excellent cast; seemingly letting them all do their thing without much direction.

And that excellent cast lives up to its reputation. Christian Bale is the moral center of the film and he carries the burden perfectly; never once going over the top and conveying every emotion in the book with a single, brooding glance. Casey Affleck is equally effective, and Zoe Saldana turns in a surprise performance of emotion. Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard are their usual brilliant selves, while Forest Whitaker, while effective, sounds like he was taking voice lessons from Bale’s BATMAN character. The show is nearly stolen by Woody Harrelson, who as the villain of the film turns in an off-the-chain performance. He is intimidating and polarizing, and you simply don’t want to blink when he is on screen.
The finale is proper for all the characters involved, and it isn’t until then when you realize just how invested you are in everybody. There is nothing shocking in the ending, or in the film overall, but the road it took to get there is very effective, and good enough to strike the heartstrings.


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