Review: Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace
9 10

PLOT: After getting out of prison, a blue-collar Rust Belt working man, Russell Baze (Christian Bale), returns home to discover that his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) has become involved with a bare-knuckle boxing ring run by a local gangster (Willem Dafoe) and a drug-crazed backwoods thug (Woody Harrelson).

REVIEW: As much as I admired director Scott Cooper's first film, CRAZY HEART, his sophomore effort, OUT OF THE FURNACE, feels downright revelatory. While it's being sold as a straight-up revenge thriller, playing up scenes of Bale wielding a hunting rifle, in reality it's much closer to Michael Cimino's THE DEER HUNTER. Like that film, this tells the story of a blue-collar rust belt town, and the lingering effect the horror of war has on the people that live and die in it.

Unlike THE DEER HUNTER though, the protagonist here, Russell, as played by Bale, is not a veteran. An early accident sees him spend four years in prison, during which time his town is wrecked by the economic recession, and his veteran brother finds himself stop-loss'd back to Iraq for bloodier and bloodier tours of duty.

It's Affleck, as the damaged brother, who makes OUT OF THE FURNACE. While a supporting part, with this Affleck delivers on the promise of movies like GONE BABY GONE and THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD with possibly his best role to date. It's an incredible part, with him as the emotionally and physically scarred veteran who punishes himself night after night in bloody brawls. There's a scene where he's confronted by Bale, and lets loose on the horror of his experience in Iraq that's probably the best acting I've seen all year and makes Affleck an obvious front runner for a best supporting actor nomination.

What's really interesting here is that Affleck's playing the part we'd usually expect Bale to play. Instead, Bale goes against type as the stalwart, compassionate brother. It's maybe the most subtle performance of his career, and he's superb. Even when he's forced to become violent towards the end, Bale plays it in a reluctant way. His best moments are the quiet ones, such as when he comforts his ailing father (his lungs wrecked by years working in the titular furnace), or his emotional reunion with Zoe Saldana after four years in prison, that's enough to move you to tears.

Going the other way is Woody Harrelson as the sadistic villain, a meth-cooking backwoods speed-freak named Curtis DeGroat. Right from the first scene, where he forces a hot dog down his junkie girlfriend's throat, Harrelson makes DeGroat a monster. This is Harrelson at his most sociopathic since NATURAL BORN KILLERS, but unlike that movie DeGroat isn't a cartoon. Even he has moments that almost make you empathize with him.

The rest of the supporting cast is similarly excellent, with Willem Dafoe doing a good job humanizing his small-time crime boss, and Forrest Whitaker adopting a unique guttural drawl for his part as a local cop investigating Harrelson. Still, this movie firmly belongs to Bale, Affleck and Harrelson.

One thing is certain- OUT OF THE FURNACE puts Scott Cooper at the head of the pack of emerging directors and makes him one to watch. This is a phenomenal and ferocious film, capable of both quiet, sensitive moments, and sudden bursts of unimaginable brutality. It's a dark film- with that being underscored by the atmospheric rural noir lensing of dp Masanobu Takayanagi- but it's also a hopeful one to a certain degree. Cooper uses the Pearl Jam song 'Release' to open and close the film (along with a subtle underscore by Eddie Vedder and composer Dickon Hinchliffe) and rarely has a song suited a film so well. Like the song, OUT OF THE FURNACE is absolutely riveting, and utterly impossible not to be emotionally wreaked by. One of the best films of the year.

Source: JoBlo.com



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