Saturday, December 7, 2013

Out of The Furnace - Review

Out of the Furnace – Review

Director Scott Cooper offers up a modern day gritty blue collar working class drama thriller in the backdrop of a small steel mill town where the only thing that matters is family in the film entitled “Out of the Furnace”.

Starring Christian Bale we find his character “Russell Baze” a hard working decent man with a moral goodness about him, who works long hours at a local steel mill to provide for his terminally ill father. We also find Russell’s brother “Rodney Baze” (Casey Affleck) who is a recently returned Iraqi veteran suffering from a bit of post traumatic syndrome that seems to be contributing to his reluctance to seek out steady employment. Rodney is more comfortable in simply wasting his time away daily by borrowing money to gamble on racing horses that always seem to lose.

Eventually Rodney is lovingly confronted by his older brother Russell of the need to paying off his debt by getting a job. So, Rodney secretly decides to work off his debts by approaching an affable but nonetheless sleazy local bookie - promoter named “John Petty” (Willem Dafoe) who is well known for arranging and rigging back ally fights for money.

When Russell gets wind of the fact that Rodney has ran up an even larger debt with Petty, Russell starts to work extra hours at the plant to pay his brother debts in the hopes that eventually he can convince Rodney to taking some control of his life by working with him at the steel plant. But Rodney resists his bother overture because as he explains it he is tormented by war demons and the only thing that he feels he is any good at right now is fighting. So it’s from this point in the film we see Rodney spiraling slowly downward being lured even deeper into more ruthless fights with equally more ruthless people. One such ruthless person is a New Jersey fight promoter named “Harlan DeGroat” (Woody Harrelson) who is nothing short of an absolutely mean SOB who has a trigger haired short fuse at the slightest indiscretion. He is an anti Christ meth head alcoholic hillbilly who would as easily shoot you for looking at him the wrong way than to ignore you by simply walking away.

When Rodney insists that Petty arrange one last fight only this time with Harlan’s ruthless criminal crew, Petty reluctantly agrees. But when Rodney and Petty mysteriously disappear after the fight, Russell takes upon himself to find his brother to bring him back home.

The first hour of the film exhibited some raw dramatic weight and seriousness, largely by the absolutely excellent and stellar performances of Bale and Harrelson who bring working class honesty to their respective characters. And while they have some similarity in their working class personalities and backgrounds in that they were clearly born on the clichéd “same side of the tracks” they carry and live their lives within a completely diametrical opposite set of values and morals.

For a while in “Furnace” I thought I was watching one of the five best films I have seen this year. And while the film basically does stay true to itself with its common everyday working class theme and story setting, it does take a bit of a formulaic turn to a Western style form of frontier justice similar to films more commonly associated with old John Wayne movies. Nonetheless, “Furnace” manages to hold up pretty good through out its running time even if it does fall off its more purposeful dramatic first hour introduction.

I highly recommend that if you don’t see this film in the theater then by all means make sure to rent it. It is a powerful showcase of the quality, the talent and the effectiveness of Bale and Harrelson's ability to largely make this move successfully move with a crispness and earthiness. And while there are numerous extended moments of laconic dialogue and conversations that seem needlessly too nuance and theatrically deliberate, it still remained sincere in those moments with unfettered consequential dramatic intensity, villainy and dread.

On one side note, I came out of this film with the conclusion that Christian Bale is not only a superb actor, he maybe one of the 5 best actors I have seen over the last 20 years. He more than any other actor I can recall, especially one who is not a natural American, seems time after time to brilliantly capture the many subtle and various mosaic mixture of American men personalities. Whether they come from a certain demographic region of the country (Out of the Furnace and The Machinist), from an upper social economic class status (American Psycho and the Dark Knight) or a historical time period (3:10 to Yuma, Public Enemies and Rescue Dawn) Bale seems to understand how to grasp the cornucopia of American men traits without ever relying on noticeable voice gimmicks, quirky accents or mimicry impersonation. He is extraordinarily gifted in being able to inhabit American roles (as a foreign born actor) with authentic credibility when telling uniquely American stories.

3 – 1/2 Stars

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