Synopsis: Russell Baze (Christian Bale) has a rough life: he works a dead-end blue collar job at the local steel mill by day, and cares for his terminally ill father by night. When Russell’s brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) returns home from serving time in Iraq, he gets lured into one of the most ruthless crime rings in the Northeast and mysteriously disappears. The police fail to crack the case, so – with nothing left to lose – Russell takes matters into his own hands, putting his life on the line to seek justice for his brother.
Release Date: December 4, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Scott Cooper captured audiences attention with his directorial debut, Crazy Heart, a character-driven film that gave Jeff Bridges the opportunity to perform one of the best performances of his career. For Out of the Furnace he has done the same for Casey Affleck, and created a stirring movie about the bond between siblings, the changing landscape of life over the choices we make, and raw, unintelligible vengeance. Out of the Furnace is not a perfect film, as it has a severely troubled third act where the tone shifts dramatically. Up until that point, it is a phenomenal character piece and the performances given by Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are mesmerizing to watch; not only because of their individual talent but how they possess an uncanny chemistry with one another.
Scott Cooper wrote and directed Out of the Furnace, the story of two brothers in a small factory town whose lives are impacted by specific troublesome events, individually. Rodney (Casey Affleck), the younger brother, has served multiple tours in Iraq and witnessed, participated in, and survived unthinkable acts. It has left him a seemingly broken man, unable to find a place in the world he has returned to time and again. Gambling has caused him to owe money to the town’s resident loan shark, John Petty (Willem Dafoe), and they together venture into underground boxing, a deadly sport in and out of the ring. Russell (Christian Bale), the elder brother, has led the more straight and narrow lifestyle. He works at the town mill, as his father did, has a loving girlfriend who wants to start a family, and protects his brother as much as he can without disrupting the fragile bond they share. That is, until one fatal mistake changes Russell’s life forever, sending him to prison, and disrupting his entire existence. Russell is key to the movie, but Rodney is the fuel to the story.
Out of the Furnace is not a movie about reinventing yourself after trauma; it focuses on trauma’s impact and suffocating hold on a person. The twists and turns the movie’s storyline presents drive it deep into a spiral of misfortune, where Rodney and Russell seem unable to escape, and never do come the film’s end. The opening scene of Out of the Furnace showcases the brutality, insanity, and lack of remorse or self-control of the antagonist, Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). The scene almost feels mistakenly placed once the scene shifts to introducing Rodney and Russell, but ultimately makes complete sense as events unfold and Harlan becomes a focal point of the story; even as his character is left without any backstory or reasoning explained for his actions. This choice by Cooper, to keep Harlan distant from the viewer works to an advantage and disadvantage. He is seen as more evil and unhinged because we know nothing about why he is the way he is, and at the same time this comes at a disadvantage because you crave knowledge and understanding when it comes to the enemy. An enemy without reason is difficult to morally digest, and Out of the Furnace shows no remorse is lacking explanation.
Led by two fantastic performances by Christian Bale and Casey Affleck, Out of the Furnace portrays a bond between brothers in dire circumstances unlike any film that has come before. It falters at the end, choosing vengeance and anger-ridden emotional decisions instead of the previous gentle outlook it gave on surviving trauma, or succumbing to its hold on your mentality. Even with the strange shift in tone, Out of the Furnace maintains an undeniable hold on its viewer until the very end, and whether that ending is satisfying will depend on your own moral compass.
A great editor goes unnoticed, as the film moves seamlessly between scenes, from close-ups to medium shots, and directs you to, and out of, a location from the establishing shot without a jarring sensation when actors are brought into frame. Out of the Furnace‘s editor, David Rosenbloom (The Rite, All Good Things), has taken a misstep with his work this time around. The first half of the movie, where the bulk of strong performances exist, is plagued by cutting on the action too soon, and without cause, resulting in a neglect of allowing the intensity of scenes to build and prosper. In one instance, Casey Affleck’s Rodney is having a near meltdown over his life’s choices, the impact the war had on him, and detailing the way in which he is different than his brother, Russell (Christian Bale), and father. It is a scene built out of frustration, anger, and uncertainty for his character and the monologue he delivers to Bale’s Russell is incredibly affecting…until it gets cut-off halfway through. Rosenbloom cuts from a face forward medium close-up of Rodney to one of the back of his head, mid-speech, and the act completely diminishes the astounding performance he has been giving. The importance of the monologue, and scene, are not lost on the viewer, but the disruption from the cut takes away a great deal from Affleck’s portrayal of Rodney, and the viewer’s connection with him at this moment. Out of the Furnace is plagued with numerous examples such as the aforementioned, and it is impossible to not notice them occurring, even for a casual observer.
The editing issues exist for the majority of the first two acts of the movie, until they suddenly correct themselves for the final act–the least important of all three. It is possible Rosenbloom had no other options give the footage he had at his disposal; if that is correct then fault would lie with director Scott Cooper or cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi. Regardless, it is the editing that stands out as being poorly done, making Out of the Furnace a movie that could have been an excellent showcase for its actors, had they been given their due time on screen in the moment without being interrupted by unnecessary cutting. Instead, it is a flawed picture, where mistakes are clearly being hidden through editing, and unfortunately, everyone will notice.
Christian Bale and Casey Affleck may as well be brothers because the chemistry they have onscreen together leaves no room to argue that they are not. It is an uncanny occurrence, the way Bale and Affleck create an ease, a symmetry with one another. From the first scene they share on screen, where Bale is essentially telling Affleck’s Rodney to get a real job and quit gambling, everything is done with casual grace. They smile at one another, joke, playfully hit to express their unhappiness with a choice that has been made, but judgment does not exist. These brothers are there for one another, but the cliche brotherly bonds, the overwrought melodrama has completely been stripped away. To call it realism is far from correct because it is hyper-realism. Chemistry such as theirs does not exist between men on screen in dramatic movies. The machismo is lacking, the antagonism often portrayed between brothers missing. Scott Cooper has written an honest and emotional portrayal of two brothers; and he has done it without any pretense or unnecessary overwrought sentiment. When things are tough, for example when Bale’s Russel is imprisoned, the first scene is not them discussing the negative aspect of the situation, instead a joke is made by Rodney stating that he “knows where to write to” during his next tour to keep in touch. The humor is there, and so are the unsaid words as Affleck and Bale both express more with their faces and body language than possible with dialogue. Out of the Furnace could not have had two better actors play the roles of Russell and Rodney, and viewers will be amazed at just how great they are on screen together.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Scott Cooper
- Screenwriter(s): Scott CooperBrad Ingelsby
- Cast: Woody Harrelson (Harlan DeGroat)Christian Bale (Russell Baze)Casey Affleck (Rodney Baze Jr.) Zoe Saldana (Lena Taylor)Sam Shepard (Gerald Baze)Willem Dafoe (John Petty)Forest Whitaker (Chief Wesley Barnes)
- Cinematographer: Masanobu Takayanagi
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Dickon Hinchliffe
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA