OUT OF THE FURNACE
Review by Gordon Justesen
Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe,
Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard
Director: Scott Cooper
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 116 Minutes
Release Date: March 11, 2014
“You got a problem with me?”
“I got a problem with everybody.”
Writer/director Scott Cooper, who showcased an impressive debut with Crazy Heart, has crafted one of the more effectively bleak films in recent memory with Out of the Furnace. He has also attracted one of the best ensemble casts of the past year, with each actor turning in a career defining performance. If the final portion of the film had been handled a little better, this would unquestionably be one of the very best films of last year...but more on that later.
Set and filmed in the Appalachian area of Pennsylvania (an area rarely captured on film), Cooper’s film paints a potent portrait of characters struggling to make it through the toughest of times, economically, as well as to not let their darker sides get the better of them. We sense that immediately with the film’s lead character, Russell Baze (Christian Bale), a steel mill worker who’s following in the same path of his father, currently on his death bed as a result of the very steel mill.
Russell’s brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), took a much different path. Currently on home turf before being shipped back to serve in Iraq, Rodney is up to neck in gambling debt. In order to settle the debt, which he owes to local bar owner John Petty (Willem Defoe), Rodney agrees to take part in a series of underground bareknuckle fist fights organized by meth dealer and ultra-psychopath Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), whom Petty is in debt to himself.
When Rodney disobeys instructions and doesn’t go down in a fight match...well, without giving much away, things don’t end well. Eventually, Russell asks to police to investigate his brother’s disappearance. Before long, he comes across information that lead straight to Harlan. And a stand off between good and evil commences.
I’ve left out a crucial plot detail regarding Russell, and it’s one that surprised me due to the fact that the trailers and ads for the movie didn’t even hint at it. And I’ve decided not to mention it here in this review, as I feel that discovering it will result more effectively. The only thing I will mention is that this particular event, which actually occurs fairly early in the film, is crucial in his character arc.
The film’s only minor flaw, as mentioned earlier, is that the final confrontation isn’t as effective as it could be. It also drags a bit and ends just as any viewer will be able to telegraph in advance. With everything building up to this moment being pure powerful storytelling, you simply wish it resulted in a climax much greater than what is delivered.
But that one setback isn’t remotely enough to undo the sheer power of this film, which includes some of the best acting of any film in recent memory. Christian Bale, who had a strong year between this and his Oscar nominated turn in American Hustle, delivers another piece of superb dramatic acting here as heartbroken older brother Russell. And Woody Harrelson, who we always associate with being the free-spirited funny guy, returns to that unflinchingly scary side of him he so memorably established in Natural Born Killers with what is by far his most intense, darkest role since that film.
While it’s certainly not a happy film experience, Out of the Furnace is certainly a powerfully effective one. It shows that Scott Cooper is capable of multiple film genres, as this is a much darker tale than Crazy Heart. If anything, it’s a truly haunting depiction of the violent nature that exists in people, even those who are determined to remain on the straight an narrow.
This is a top-notch HD handling from Fox. The picture itself is as effectively dark and grim as the film itself, and the Blu-ray presentation enhances those qualities tremendously. The dark levels are indeed the strongest, and the overall colors are presented in awe-striking quality, as well.
The film is mainly dialogue driven, but does occasionally showcase bursts of intense violence. The DTS HD mix serves those areas tremendously well, in addition to its delivery of the soundtrack (especially Pearl Jam’s “Release”, which opens and closes the film). Dialogue delivery is extremely well handled from beginning to end.
Included on this Fox Blu-ray release are four featurettes, each of them way too brief. But included among them are “Inspiration”, which reveals various actors inspirations for going into their chosen profession, followed by “A Conversation with Scott Cooper”, “Creating the Fights”, and “The Music” (the last one being the best and most informative). Rounding out the extras is a Theatrical Trailer.
Out of the Furnace is a film that, with the slight exception of the climax, is firing on all cylinders. The cast is absolutely phenomenal and Scott Cooper can definitely craft himself a hauntingly bleak film. It is very much a must see drama, especially if you’re a fan of any of the featured actors!