Set in the Nineties in the gritty provinciality of Braddock, Pittsburgh, Scott Cooper's characters devolve in a mire of despondency, anger, and mediocrity in Out of the Furnace.
The town is painted under a gray firmament, with its appended industrial limbs jutting out of the verdure.
The film's opening scene sets the pulse with an exceptionally potent depiction of violence at a drive-in movie. It's an introduction to the psychopathic monster Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), for whom violence is a sport; the gratuitous intent manifested in the very fiber of his being. DeGroat almost chokes his girlfriend with a hot dog, irritated by how she is daintily nibbling on the bread and busts the face of a stranger who comes to her defense. All along, the black and white movie placidly flickers on the screen in the backdrop.
DeGroat is essentially a knucklehead -- he has the words "f***k you" tattooed on the arches of each hand and speaks incoherently. Harrelson, like most of the other actors in this film, leaves a burning impression with his portrayal.
The dumbed-down aspirations and staid existence that Braddock inspires are embodied by Russell Baze (Christian Bale). Baze works a blue collar job, hopes to start a family with his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) and tends to his ailing father. The antithesis of Baze is manifest in his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck). The younger Baze is restless and anxious and Affleck astutely channels his discontent. Rodney's weakness for betting on horse races runs up a debt, which his responsible brother tries to pay off. Russell's accountability is perfectly discounted by Rodney's recklessness through the film.
As things turn awry, Russell's entire life and the things he cares about are jeopardized by a car accident. The woman and child in the car that collides with Russell's die on the spot. As he does his time in jail, Russell's circumstances take a nosedive.
Bale and Affleck play one of the most convincing pair of brothers in cinema -- their deep affection for each other is effectively conveyed through their terse interactions about the mundane stuff, peppered with occasional banter.
While Rodney is drafted off to the Iraq war, Russell has his first encounters with gratuitous violence in prison.
As the brothers return from different prisons of forced violence, their world spirals out of control. Russell's girlfriend has moved on, is now with a cop (Forrest Whitaker) and his father has passed away. Affleck's character seethes with an untamable appetite for violence, a byproduct of war. His dissatisfaction with life coupled with his fluency with the baldly crude language of violence assist in his fast decline.
Rodney starts to participate in wrestling matches to pay off his debt owed to John Petty (Willem Dafoe), a small-time fixer. When Russell discovers what Rodney is up to and confronts him, asking him why he couldn't work at the factory like Russell and their father, the hopelessness is amplified in Rodney's disregard for that life after having been on the frontlines.
The film builds up to Rodney's ultimate encounter with the savages - led by DeGroat -- that live in the seedier parts of New Jersey, where they dictate their own law. Petty fixes Rodney up in the big dangerous league for a fight in DeGroat's circle. This eventually costs both Petty and Rodney their lives.
Cooper generously uses montages, which sometimes get tired, in the film. One such long, intricately constructed montage sequence -- Rodney being taken down by DeGroat in the forest and Russell hunting for deer with his uncle - is overwrought with symbolism. Russell is seen not being able to shoot a deer that looks him directly in the eye, as Rodney spits defiance in DeGroat's face and takes a bullet to the head. The scene ends with the emaciated carcass of a deer - taken down by the uncle -- and Rodney's dead body being dragged away.
The rage starts to build in the compassionate and scrupulous Russell, who is determined to avenge his brother's death. The film continues to engage with its investigation of the nature of violence, as we see Russell get sucked into the bloodied arena, quietly imploding, seeking out his brother's killers.
The final encounter between DeGroat and Russell seems redemptive - from the unwarranted violence that throttled him, the weight of his recent losses, and the pedestrian existence in Braddock - for Bale's character. The film comes to a close with a wounded DeGroat, limping away from Russell. As DeGroat turns to look him in the eye, without any hesitation Russell lodges the final, fatal bullet in DeGroat's chest.
While the film investigates the nature of violence, brotherly love, and subtly exposes the societal malaise - essentially stemming from the motivations of a callous bureaucracy -- that afflicts certain ignored parts of America, it sometimes struggles under the weight of overly familiar storylines. It is the performances of Bale, Affleck, Harrelson and Dafoe that bolster this film.
Director: Scott Cooper
Release date: Dec. 6
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