OUT OF THE FURNACE
FIRE AND ICE
SCOTT COOPER DELIVERS ON PROMISE
Scott Cooper’s American character study-thriller bursts at the seams. After his directorial debut with “Crazy Heart,” Cooper returns from his Oscar win with a sophomore movie that fulfills his promise as a filmmaker of vision and grit. While it doesn’t carry “Crazy Heart’s” satisfying range of emotional texture and ironic wit, it’s a solid effort that bodes well for Cooper’s growth as a filmmaker.
The industrial look of “Out of the Furnace” is exquisitely grungy. Set in Braddock, Pennsylvania, the story resonates with “The Deer Hunter” without needing to visit upon the ravages of America’s sundry wars overseas; Americans are already plenty ravaged enough at home. That’s the message of the movie. Cooper doesn’t sugarcoat anything.
The nation’s downturned economy is a pervasive quicksand that drains color and life out of everything, especially in the town of Braddock, where Christian Bale’s Russell Baze works at its soon-to-be-closed Carrie Furnace Complex.
Russell’s brother Rodney is an Iraq war vet who has done too many tours of duty. Some people have read too many books, or seen too many movies. Rodney has seen too much mindless killing, and been a part of it too. He’s damaged goods. If anyone thought Affleck fell off the planet after “The Killer Inside Me,” this exceptional actor is back with a vengeance. Affleck’s immersion in the role of a universal soldier with a permanent chip on his shoulder is thoroughly compelling. Rodney finds distraction in over-leveraging his social condition — namely that of an unemployable (broke) war vet — with a taste for stupid gambling. The only money Rodney makes comes from fighting in an illegal fight club run by a local bar owner played by Willem Dafoe. Still, Rodney is a military badass who hasn’t yet learned how to take a fall.
You would be hard pressed to find three finer performances than those delivered by Affleck, Bale, or Woody Harrelson (playing an inbred Appalachian brute). “Out of the Furnace” is a straightforward revenge thriller with plenty of atmosphere, character development, and plot twists to make the experience matter. It’s a movie that raises questions without trying too hard. What comes out of the furnace, and where does it go next?
Rated R. 106 mins. (B) (Three stars - out of five/no halves)
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