Writer-director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) has created another somber, gritty portrait of life in blue collar America with his new film Out of the Furnace. While at times the plot is too melodramatic and unfortunately turned formulaic in its third act, the fantastic performances and cinematography are what really make Out of the Furnace stand out. If for no other reason, see this film as an acting Master class.
Filmed on location in the working-class steel town of Braddock Pennsylvania, the film focuses on the Baze family. Russell Baze (Christian Bale) is a dejected employee at the town’s steel mill, which doesn’t seem to be enough for him, no matter what he tells himself. After a terrible accent sends him to prison on a manslaughter conviction, Russell tries to put his life back together by taking care of his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) and attempting to win back his former girlfriend (Zoe Saldana).
Rodney recently returned home after serving in the Army. After a traumatizing tour in the Middle East, he is disheartened to find that even with his military experience, the only option for employment is a job at the mill. Rodney decides that instead of working at the mill like every other able-bodied male in the town, he will join a local bar owner’s (Willem Dafoe) underground bare-knuckle boxing circuit. As it turns out, Rodney is a spectacular fighter and is able to make a lot more money fighting than he would working at the steel mill; all it costs him is a few bloody noses and broken ribs. In order to make the big bucks, however, Rodney needs to get into the “big leagues” of underground fighting, which takes place in :gasp: New Jersey and is run by a gang of ruthless “hillbillies” led by Curtis DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). Once he gets involved with these guys, Rodney can’t get out and it is up to big brother Russell to take matters into his own hands.
This is the year of Christian Bale, one of the best actors working today. From his role in this film, to his role in American Hustle, he has made 2013 the year he proves what incredible talent he can bring to any role and any film. In Out of the Furnace, Bale’s character Russell is the center of this film when he is on camera and off. Bale is the master of portraying outward emotion, while also holding back, giving his characters incredible layers of depth and complexity. He easily transitions between a compassionate brother, son, and boyfriend to an (at times) scary ex-con seeking vengeance. Bale is never better than in this film, though I can imagine I will be retyping this sentence when I review his performance in American Hustle.
Casey Affleck is also fantastic in this film. In fact, I think it is one of his best performances yet. The younger Affleck brother is such a great actor, it is never an issue as to whether he will be enveloped by his brother’s large Batman-shaped shadow. He has made a name for himself and his heartfelt, emotional performance in Out of the Furnace is incredible. Affleck is able to come off as a badass bare-knuckled boxer, while also appearing broken and lost. This ability to juxtapose such different emotions not only elevates his career, but elevates the film as well.
Although it was released in a prime spot for Oscar voting, Out of the Furnace will be largely ignored (as it should be due to the strength of this award season). However, that doesn’t mean this film should be ignored by viewers. While it has its issues, this film is a stark, intense drama that, based on performances alone, definitely deserves a rental.
My Review: B-/B