"Out of the Furnace" Review: Craig's First Take

Photo Credit: Photo by Kerry Hayes – © 2012 Relativity Media, LLC. All rights reserved

Scott Cooper isn’t one for complex emotion, or smiling really. Now with two movies under his belt, the “Crazy Heart” writer-director seems to identify most with characters whose hardships have made it hard to find anything else to lose.

In “Out of the Furnace”, a film he sets in 2008, the feeling of desolation hangs in the air of this small Pennsylvania steel mill town. Houses and buildings have been boarded up and the economy is in the toilet, the mill being the only real job opportunity around. Brothers Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) are just getting by. Rodney is an Iraqi soldier unfairly stop-lossed while Russell works at the Mill and works hard to take care of an ailing father and keep his degenerate gambler brother from owing too much money to the town bookie (Willem Dafoe).

Another stint in Iraq for Rodney and a prison stint for Russell after a car accident does neither one any good. Their father passes away and Russell’s girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) has moved on, while Rodney feels very let down by a country he gave so much for but which has left him with so few options; so much so that be begins bare-knuckle fighting for cash, which eventually leads to crossing paths with some seriously brutal, inbred dudes who live up in the hills (Woody Harrelson plays their psychotic, violent leader). It’s a real no-mans land where chances of even coming out alive are very small.

This is a grim, bloody, fairly straight-forward tale of drugs, low-lifes, and emotionally damaged men. You know that the Bale and Harrelson characters are on a collision course but Cooper keeps both characters pretty much at arms-length (except for one brief scene together to begin the film) until the very end, letting his scenery, violence, and bruised (physically as well) actors speak volumes about life in a place where industry has left a big abandoned hole.

At times you wish Cooper were more introspective; Russell’s guilt at not being there for his father or brother while in prison is something I would have liked to hear more about, but “Out of the Furnace” works well enough as a dramatic thriller, albeit a depressed one.