By Tanya Blake – Follow on Twitter @eotmonline
It’s Scott Cooper’s directorial debut, the critically-acclaimed writer and director of Crazy Heart unleashes Out of the Furnace. A gripping and gritty drama about family, fate, circumstance, and justice.
The story focuses on Russell Baze, played by Christian Bale, a hard-working, morally and ethically sound man who works at a steel mill that’s soon to shut down, ends up in prison after making one bad choice, is absent for his sickly father’s funeral, is his brother’s keeper — Rodney (played by Casey Affleck) and..notably… loses his girlfriend to a cop…yep, you guessed it, Baze has a really…really rough life.
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The two brothers are close, but you feel it’s a relationship based more on one-sided financial dependence, at least initially.
Affleck, a fidgety young man who opted for military life over the mills, and now faces a “stop-loss” order for a fourth tour in Iraq.
What seems like 5 years pass in the film’s first 30 minutes, and it makes a point to show that the change being touted hasn’t come—or has it?
As Russell drives home from the bar one night, he T-bones a reversing car pulling out and kills all inside, including children; the drunken manslaughter charge condemns him to a brutal prison stay while Rodney witnesses his own horrors overseas. When years later the siblings finally reunite—sunken-eyed, tattooed, and with news of their father’s death—both are hollow and degraded, but only one is still optimistic.
Cooper shoots these leaps in time with a tremendously assured eye for storytelling. Bale’s lingering look back upon the prison when he’s released says more about his stay than any flashback, while Affleck—without his character saying a word of his actions in Iraq (which he eventually does reveal)—restlessly thunders around the small town with a barely contained fury.
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Bale embodies Russell with perhaps his best performance to date, letting his drawled lines fall from his mouth with a trembling smile as matters quickly turn grim—a scene between him and Zoe Saldana (who otherwise gains little traction in her role) as he realizes their new relationship after prison is especially affecting.
What happens next offers few surprises: Rodney returns home he gets lured into one of the most ruthless crime rings in the Northeast and mysteriously disappears. The police fail to crack the case, so – with nothing left to lose – Russell takes matters into his own hands, putting his life on the line to seek justice for his brother (yes..the brother’s keeper thingy holds true).
Most of the movie is set against the backdrop of Rust Belt Pennsylvania, which, along with a mid-film hunting sequence.
The setting, and its place in time, give the movie’s title a metaphorical meaning as well: the Baze brothers are also coming out of the furnace of the recession, which decimated the local economy and their livelihoods.
The ever-magnetic Bale accentuates the character’s complexities, and carries the film with an easy, watchable intensity. If that seems like a contradiction, keep in mind that few movie stars can execute such nuance. (shrugs) As Russell’s temp rises on a low simmer, Cooper nurtures the suspense with methodical pacing and an eye for visual detail. The film is well-made and well-acted – and terrifically downbeat. But at least it’s a thoughtful journey into despair.
Out of the Furnace is powered by an amazing trio of performances by Bale, Woody Harrelson, Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Saldana and Sam Shepard — all of which are unique, unpredictable and constantly re-frames the action in a compelling way.
TITLE: “Out of the Furnace”
CREDITS: Directed by Scott Cooper, screenplay by Mr. Cooper and Brad Ingelsby
RATING: R for violence, language
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
Check out the trailer now.