Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Sam Shepard and Forest Whitaker
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: January 31st
Small town America is no longer the idealistic place it once was. Welcoming diners and Mom and Pop stores have long gone. Factories and mills have closed leaving blue collar workers to turn to blue collar crime. The age of the New Poor is here.
Set in Braddock, Pennsylvania, an industrial town along the American Rust Belt, Out of the Furnace follows a steel mill worker (Christian Bale) struggling with impending redundancy, his brother’s gambling debts and a dying father. A momentary slip in character seems him serving time and when he eventually gets out, all that he attempted to preserve has shattered, leaving him to be sift through the shards.
Out of the Furnace jogs the memory of many movies—Deer Hunter, Killing Them Softly, The Place Beyond the Pines and Dead Man’s Shoes—all of which were far more cogent in delivering their message. It wants to be all things at once yet manages to be nothing at all. It clumsily mixes post-Iraq war preaching, the excellerated deterioration of industry towns in Obama’s America, the War on Drugs, absorbing the sins of your family and cold-blooded revenge. Nothing sticks though. Which is a shame, because everything else is pretty great. Scott Cooper cleverly shoots down in run down Braddock to add a profoundly strong sense of place—when you see the closed down steel mill, it’s the actual closed down steel mill.
Its performances, particularly from the three leads, are absolutely knockouts. Bale’s bloated and balding turn earlier this year may garner all the award chatter but his tortured wiry frame is every bit as engrossing. As Russell, he carries the movie entirely on his gaunt frame that can hardly fill a medium white t-shirt which is then bent and tested to just how malleable a man can be. Affleck, as his PTSD suffering brother, channels that cracked Southern weirdo voice to perfection but is undersold with dialogue that makes him sound like Homer Simpson quoting Patton dialogue. Woody Harrelson snarls with a ferocious menace throughout as an Appalachian mountain dweller who dabbles in meth, OxyContin and brutal bare knuckle fights. His introduction is as unsettling and stark as any in recent memory and his mantra of “I’ve got a problem with everybody” reigns fire on all it sees. The rest of the cast fleets in and out briefly yet still manages to stand out, none more so than Willem Dafoe as an astutely cast permatan gangster.
Still, its composite story of a spec script—originally set for Ridley Scott to direct with Leonardo DiCaprio starring—and Cooper’s own experiences never settle on one experience and deliver a simple but frustrating story. Out of the Furnace is worth seeing on the strength of its performances alone, yet it still leaves a terrible lack of satisfaction.