Entertainment LIFESTYLE  >  Movie Review of the Week: “Out of the Furnace”

Movie Review of the Week: “Out of the Furnace”

Movie Review of the Week: “Out of the Furnace”
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BY ALISON BAILES

Writer/director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) takes us deep into the depths of the American male psyche in this familiar, yet emotionally wrenching tale of brotherly love and brutal revenge.  Along with co-writer Brad Ingelsby, Cooper has crafted a compelling drama that while drawing on many genre conventions, seems to exist powerfully in its own defined space.

That originality comes from the performances that are across the board strong. Anchoring the film is Christian Bale, whose physical presence is just a small part of his character. (Incredibly, Bale will next appear in “American Hustle” on December 13th with 40lbs of flab around his middle).  Here, his steel-worker Russell Baze is rangy and lean, with straggly hair and an unkempt beard. He looks like a man who has worked for a living all his life, perfectly in keeping with the Pennsylvania Rust-belt town of Braddock where he exists. Facing probable redundancy from the closing mill, and with a dying father and an Iraq bound brother, Baze doesn’t have much going for him. But he knows that holding down a steady job is the decent thing to do. Decency is important to Russell.

A tragic car accident sends Russell to prison for DUI manslaughter for four years. When he is released, his father has died and his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) has moved on. His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), unable to reintegrate after his military service is involved with some bad men. Making money on the bare-knuckles fighting circuit, Rodney gets in deep with John Petty (Willem Dafoe), a shady money-lender with even shadier ties. Rodney raises the hackles of a backwoods meth-head called Harlan DeGroat (a creepy Woody Harrelson), whose only method of communication is violence. A prologue showing him beating a stranger to a pulp, for daring to offer assistance to his woman, sets up a cinematic climax that we surely know must come.

With a slow build-up, Cooper, (helped by the saddened desolation in Masanobu Takayanagi’s beautiful cinematography) dwells on life in an economically depressed small town, showing Rodney’s dead-end gambling habit, the bar where men go to drink, and the hunting rituals of the American male. You can’t show a man stalking a deer in bleak, colorless woods without reminding audiences of “The Deer Hunter” and here Cooper seems to be welcoming the comparison. Rodney is as damaged as those veterans, Cooper seems to be saying, and life feels just as meaningless.

Much about this grim, grimy story recalls great films of the 1970s, from the cinematography to the intensity of the focus on character. When Rodney goes missing, Russell becomes fixated on finding him, even though that conflicts with the way the local police officer (Forest Whitaker) does things, and especially because it will bring him into a head to head confrontation with the dangerous DeGroat.  Harrelson, in a role that could have been one-note, brings a desperate fury to DeGroat. He manages to be menacing without becoming cartoonish.

Cooper does show some clumsy moves. I could have done with the cross-cutting which he uses twice in an attempt to build suspense and to make heavy-handed points about man’s inherent violence. The dressing of a deer is contrasted with the brutality of the boxing ring. The film is strong enough in its images without this forced intrusion of stylistic showing off.

But it is the faces that will haunt you long after you leave the theatre. Bale makes Russell an anguished knot of regret whose powerlessness compels him to seek a solution in physical revenge. Affleck is a bundle of raw nerves concealing the pain of PTSD. Harrelson is a prowling predator with a soul long lost to drugs. The side characters are equally compelling…Dafoe, Sam Shepard, Saldana, Tom Bower and Whitaker.  With Pearl Jam’s lamentation “Release” bookending the film, Cooper has delivered an indelible, lyrical image of a dying America.

 

 

 

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