Out of the Furnace

Directed by Scott Cooper
Starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker
In UK Cinemas January 29th, 2014

by Amanda Farley

Out of the Furnace is a dark and gritty drama that focuses on the lives of two brothers trapped in an unforgiving world of economic decline and violence. Set in a beautiful but financially devastated steel town in Pennsylvania the film follows the relationship between Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and his troubled little brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck). Russell, a steel worker, is a good man; a loving son, a caring boyfriend and a protective older brother. However, a tragic accident sees Russell serving a prison sentence and with his release he is forced to embrace a changed world. Everything that he cared about has become decayed and the most damaged of all is Rodney, who returns home from serving time in Iraq full of rage but without any outlet for his anger. Rodney, refusing to work in the steel mill like his brother, enters the dangerous world of bare-knuckle fighting, where he soon encounters Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) a psychopathic hillbilly with a love of violence. When Rodney mysteriously disappears and local law enforcement fail to act quickly, Russell risks his own life to find his little brother.

Scott Cooper’s second feature is an ambitious and interesting drama.  Cooper creates a world that is dark and oppressive and populates it with characters that live and breath a sense of bleak reality. The location filming is used to stunning effect and the shots of the steel factory and town create an image of a way of life in decline. A snapshot of a dying piece of cultural history. Cooper also uses imagery to wonderful effect. The stag is perhaps the most striking. A moment of beautiful cinematic storytelling that foreshadows the inevitable ending. However the heart of this film is its actors. Bale gives an exceptional performance, his portrayal of Russell is realistic and nuanced. He draws the audience into his world and creates a character that is tough but also compassionate and likeable. He once again proves his prowess as a fine character actor. While Affleck is beautiful as the angry young man. He manages to capture the raw hatred and anger that festers under the surface of so many who return after witnessing war. Both actors make us care about these brothers and the scenes between them bristle with electricity.

Harrelson meanwhile is the perfect villain. He is both captivating and repulsive. He manages to give depth and humour to DeGroat that somehow makes the violence seem all the more awful. From the opening segment we see just how dangerous he is and the violence becomes more and more horrific as the story progresses. The rest of the cast is an impressive list of names including Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana and Sam Shepard and none of them disappoint. However, despite this stellar cast, this film does lack pace. Scenes can feel aimless and characters like the local police chief (Forest Whitaker) are under developed in a way that affects the intensity of the drama at key moments.  The script while well written is far from perfect and this does effect the momentum of the film. These shortcomings however don’t take away from the fact that Cooper is doing something interesting with this film and something that is not necessarily typical of Hollywood. If he gives the story too much freedom at least he makes that choice and the result, while not perfect, is pleasing and more realistic then most modern cinematic offerings of this nature. This film seems to promises much greater things for its director in the future.

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