Out of the Furnace
Film Title: Out of the Furnace
Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson
Running Time: 116 min
Responsible Russell Baze (Christian Bale) visits with local rogue Petty (Willem Dafoe), in order to settle a debt owed by Russell’s feckless younger brother (Casey Affleck). There follows some backslapping. Sure, Petty knows that Russell, a stoical, decent lad who toils at the local mill, is good for it. They toast the arrangement, a fateful gesture that will land Russell in jail for four years.
Russell returns to the Rust Belt, to a brother scarred by military duties in the Middle East and a tearful girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) who has moved on. Sadly, this is only the beginning of the Baze brothers’ woes.
The film’s opening sequence has already alerted us to the menace of local meth goon, Degroat (a magnificently unhinged Woody Harrelson). Will Russell take action against this redneck psychopath when local authorities don’t? Well, he is Batman – if Batman had fallen somewhere between blue collar and white trash and didn’t live in a mansion with a butler.
In theory, Out of the Furnace is an Awards Season Movie. Even its producers (Leonardo DiCaprio, Ridley Scott) are A-listy. A downbeat fraternal bonds drama bolstered by first-rate performances and grand emotional set-pieces, the film provides a dazzling showcase for someone as gifted as Bale: the scene which reunites Russell and his pre-porridge girlfriend might be Bale’s best screen moment since Empire of the Sun.
The story straddles two locations: a dying Pennsylvanian steel town and the backwoods of New Jersey hill country. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi makes great use of the contrasting post-industrial and pre-industrial distinction, while director/co-writer Scott Cooper takes on Obama’s America.
It’s an awfully big target and, too often, Out of the Furnace feels like a wild haymaker sideswipe. Unlike such working-class thrillers as Winter’s Bone and Frozen River, Cooper’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning, country-themed Crazy Heart is overcooked and baggily plotted. There are too many musical interludes (courtesy of Eddie Vedder and Tindersticks’ Dickon Hinchliffe) and dozens of pillow shots.
In keeping with the intrusive, tastefully constructed soundtrack, there’s something too glossy and decidedly inauthentic about the film. Its hymn to the kind of blue-collar values that Bruce Springsteen has frequently chronicled sounds hollow. The film’s brand of Americana is pretty, but very Hollywood: hard scrabble but not hard won.