Sunday, December 8, 2013

Review: Out of the Furnace

Image courtesy of Relativity Media.
Scott Cooper's "Out of the Furnace" is a gritty crime drama that seemingly draws inspiration from the working class setting of a film like "The Deer Hunter" and the violence and drug addiction amid midwestern economic despair of "Winter's Bone." But while the film may not be as strong as either of those aforementioned movies and is unable to bring to fruition its ultimate ambitions, the picture at least provides some significant dramatic tension and is carried by the performances of its cast.

In the film, an excellent Christian Bale, tattooed and haggard, plays Russell Baze, a good-hearted mill worker in Pennsylvania who aims to keep an eye on his wayward brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), who has returned from Iraq deeply scarred and gets involved in a brutal fight club led by a particularly reprehensible man named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson at his creepiest), whom we first meet as he attacks a woman in his car, forcing a hot dog down her throat.

But a terrible twist of fate results in Russell landing several years in prison and then returning home to find that his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) has taken up with a local cop (Forest Whitaker), while Rodney has gotten deeper into debt and mixed up with DeGroat's gang.

In terms of story, "Out of the Furnace" pretty much goes where you'd expect, although the fate of one character just over halfway through the film genuinely shocked me. And the film's ambitions, which attempt to connect the dots between Affleck's psychologically stunted war veteran, the economic plight of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey communities depicted in the movie and the eventual turning to criminal behavior for the Baze brothers, don't quite pay off.

That being said, Cooper - who directed 2009's solid "Crazy Heart" - delivers the goods otherwise. As a crime drama, the picture remains riveting throughout, creating a sense of tension that rarely lets up. And the cast, which also includes Sam Shepard and Willem Dafoe, is all-around solid. "Out of the Furnace" may not quite live up to Cooper's debut, but it's certainly worth a look.

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