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Weeks before I took the time to see Out of the Furnace on its opening
day today, I saw an interview with the cast where star Christian Bale
made a comment about how the script and the character really stuck with
him before he'd ever agreed to take the role. While I normally hate to
see a film based on something ANY of the actors involved have said
(because really, who WOULDN'T give their film a nice push to the
press?), I had a gut feeling I'd want to see this one. It's a good
thing I tend to go with my gut, because if you watch for two hours with
an open mind, Out of the Furnace is certainly filled with dilemmas
people across America STILL face on a daily basis -- and that alone is
why it will hit too close to home. It is why some people will say it is
"too" gritty, "too" depressing, "too" much of something.
I'm a New Jersey native, and my state is filled with many towns that are run down and haven't seen anything positive happen in them in decades. A town not far from me lost its heart when a tea factory was forced out and jobs outsourced to China in the 90s. Just across the border, 20 minutes into Pennsylvania, is an old steel town (not the one in the film) that drove workers out of their mills in the 80s, the old blast furnaces still towering over the "south side" of town that is dotted with row homes. If you've ever driven through Michigan, at least a handful of cities there would paint the same picture as anything you'll see in Out of the Furnace. In Indiana, the same. I point this out because several moviegoers in the theater where I saw the film were saying that Out of the Furnace paints an unrealistic portrait of the "worst" parts of America, making them seem worse than they are. But until people have lived that lifestyle, it's easy to say that it doesn't still exist. What I appreciated about Furnace is that Cooper had the guts to make a gritty film that points out that there are towns filled with good people who can never get beyond their "hard times".
Is it unrealistic, perhaps, to assume that bare-knuckle fighting rings are organized nationwide? Perhaps. It doesn't mean, however, that there aren't plenty of illegal activities happening at the hands of "desperate" men (many of our nation's veterans are homeless, don't forget). Cooper chose Braddock as a great setting for this film, and he chose great actors to portray "everyman". And honestly, I see why he waited for Christian Bale to come around to making this film; nobody could have pulled off Russell Baze the way that Bale does -- with his quiet desperation, his eyes telling you everything that is churning in his gut, the weariness settled into his body making him sometimes appear aged beyond his years. Where Bale brings a quietness to Russell, Casey Affleck brings the loud emotive bursts and the scrappiness of his youth to Rodney Baze, and the two work wonderfully in balancing the "brotherhood" aspect of the film. While I fault Cooper for failing to tell us more of the relationship between the two, I feel that both actors worked hard to bring the familial bond to the forefront of the story.
There are several aspects to the storytelling that are to be admired. For one, the juxtaposition between Russell out hunting while his brother is being driven to what could potentially be his death match -- a "hunt" of his own -- was brilliant in its pacing. The same can be said for the scene where we assume the "bad" guy (Woody Harrelson taking a terrifying turn as the film's antagonist) is going to finally be caught by the law enforcement swarming his home. And finally, the bridge scene between Russell and Lena (Baze's girlfriend played admiringly well by Zoe Saldana) is one that gives a heart to a film that is otherwise dark and depressing. It's because of moments like these that I was able to overlook the film's obvious flaws. There is patchy storytelling (blame the script writers), but the actors all grab hold of the material they've been given and work well with it despite its shortcomings. What I ultimately applaud Out of the Furnace for is the fact that these characters could still represent many people in this country and throughout the world. How far would we ALL go, trying so hard to be "good" day in and day out, waiting for a break, trying to earn the extra dollar...before we got tired of the rest of the world getting ahead without us, and we take matters into our own hands?
Out of the Furnace poses this thought-provoking question and lets the viewer see how you can go down either path. Everyone wants to say that they'd still stay on the straight and narrow, but until you can put yourselves into the shows of these characters, you just truly never know. Ask yourself what you would do if Rodney Baze was YOUR brother? How far would you go for family -- for a family member who had put his own life on the line for this country? How far would you go in a town where everything else had shut down around you? Cooper doesn't give us the best film of the year with Out of the Furnace, but he and this cast give you plenty to think about long after the credits roll.
When I saw the cast list, I knew there would be some wonderful
performances, but I was surprised at how they uniformly surpassed my
expectations. I believe it's Bale's best work so far, and that's saying
something. Likewise with Affleck, Harrelson and Saldana. The rest of
the cast was wonderful as well.
There is one scene in particular (I won't spoil it here) where an actor lets loose in a way that careful directors and nervous producers would normally edit out. I applaud Scott Cooper for breaking the rule that films are meant to entertain (and earn millions), and raw emotion that feels too close to reality is to be avoided. It's inelegant, and not what we want to see from stars, especially attractive ones. Cooper lets people be people, and I find that incredibly refreshing.
I was immediately invested in the characters -- warts and all. As painful as many of their decisions were to watch, I went along for those very bumpy rides, because any other course taken would be untrue for these characters.
I recently saw "12 Years A Slave," and feel inclined to mention that I sense a new, somewhat subversive style of filmmaking emerge -- and maybe a wonderful new culture in Hollywood. (At least I hope so.) It's one where films about extraordinary hardship are treated a way that doesn't hold back, glamorize or otherwise mollify them.
In my opinion, when Hollywood slicks up violence (as it almost always does), it informs us that we shouldn't really be moved by its tragedy. We aren't shaken to the core and inspired to stop suffering wherever we can. That's shameful. So kudos to Cooper and to Steve McQueen for embracing a reality in their films that reconnects us with humanity instead of suggesting it's okay to blithely mock it.
If I have any criticism of this film, it's that two scenes where one plays out as a metaphor for the other may not have been necessary. Otherwise, I feel the writing is disciplined and at the same time very rich and rewarding.
The potential horrors of poverty and a lack of opportunity on display in this film are dealt with in a way that exempts political bias, and that in itself is a huge accomplishment.
A sense of hope exists amidst the heartache of this film. I will see it again.
The fine cast assembled for this film makes me wonder what they saw in
the script. Was it a matter of one actor signing on, and others wanting
to work with him (I say him because the only female in the film is Zoe
Saldana, in a one-dimensional and thankless role). Was it that the
director used to be an actor and knows all these people? Was it because
he had success with Crazy Heart?
Other reviews basically already touch on the problems here: it means nothing. I wanted to like the film, but I walked out of the theater not knowing what I had just seen (the ending is confusing, ridiculous, and poorly done). The film takes itself far too seriously to get away with just being entertaining, and when you don't have a clue what the whole point of the movie was, that's a bad thing. Things happen in the film without really coming together and create a cohesive narrative where you feel that there's any growth or direction. Perhaps that's the intent, but any theme or themes were underdeveloped and not apparent. I find the comparisons to Deerhunter insulting, personally.
The actors do a fine job, although I feel there is some miscasting in the movie. Would Forest Whitaker really be able to attract Zoe Saldana? Nothing in the movie gave me any reason to think they had a believable relationship. Frankly, nothing in the film convinced me that Saldana would even stay in a town like Braddock. Bale is good, as is Affleck and Harrelson, but I didn't really connect with anyone except Affleck's character.
Definitely a missed opportunity and a disappointment.
Scott Cooper wowed us with Crazy Heart, his directorial debut that nabbed Jeff Bridges his long awaited Best Actor Oscar in 2009. Cooper has waited 4 years to bring us something that is very much so in the vein of his last film. Out of the Furnace tells the bleak story of Russell Baze and his determination to discover the truth about his little brother, Rodney, after he goes missing without a trace. The strength of this film relies on the performances, hands down. There is no real plot twist, there is no memorable camera work, this is a film that is built upon the strengths of its lead actors, especially Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson. This is a throwback to 1970 style cinema where story and acting trump anything technically. The story is generic but it never feels quite as stale when you're watching it because no matter how many times we've seen this story, we get lost in Christian Bale's performance. He is a man of many facial expressions and very few words and that really plays to his benefit in this film. It shows that, while Bale can be as goofy as Dickie Ecklund in The Fighter, he can also be as dark and ominous as Russell Baze. We really see that Christian Bale is becoming one of the best actors of this generation and with Out of the Furnace, he solidifies that. While Bale delivers a dark and gritty portrayal of a man with nothing to lose, it is Woody Harrelson that plays Curtis DeGroat, a sick, backwoods, meth- dealing, brute and Harrelson plays him perfectly. Without giving any spoilers away, there are a couple scenes (one of which involves a prostitute) that are so unflinchingly brutal that features DeGroat at his most nefarious. These are the roles that Harrelson relishes in, and this film goes to show that nobody can play a villain quite like Harrelson. He's the guy you love to hate and in Out of the Furnace, I have to say he plays DeGroat with a pitch-perfect tone that it makes you wonder where the line is drawn in his mind. You lose yourself in the scenes with Harrelson because he is just that good at playing a sadistic psychopath with murderous tendencies. The rest of the cast, including Casey Affleck, are outstanding. However, this film showcases Bale and Harrelson as definite Oscar hopefuls and it uses that to its advantage. While we see enough of Affleck, Saldana and Whitaker, the film belongs to Bale and Harrelson. This is a bleak and brutal film with fantastic performances across the board. It is far from the feel good movie of the year, quite the opposite, it is probably the most depressing next to Prisoners, but just because you won't leave the theater with a grin doesn't mean you should skip this.
Revenge is hardly a fresh concept in film-making. This basic theme, however, here takes a backseat to the styled execution of "Out of the Furnace." Told through an all-star cast, the story unfolds slowly, but powerfully. Set in a rural, present-day America, the cinematography captures a beautiful country and glory that is seemingly fading under the weight of war and the economy. The cast skillfully fleshes out the various characters, establishing believability and giving them a rare level of depth. This makes the atmosphere tangible and arguably makes the element of human drama the actual star of the film. The entire cast is excellent and essential, however Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson absolutely steal the show. As the bad-to-the-bone "villain" of the script, Harrelson is awesomely despicable, his mere presence on the screen inciting anxiety. Alternately, Bale plays a good but troubled man, condemned to watch his life disintegrate one piece at a time. I caught the director, Scott Cooper, in an interview segment on Carson Daly. He mentioned a desire to impact and "immerse" the audience in his movies. In that regard, I would judge this effort to be an undeniable success. During certain scenes, I found myself echoing the actions and emotions depicted on screen, such as dread, liberation, uneasiness, tension, and particularly, a relieved breath of serenity. More drama than action, the tone for me was reminiscent of "The Place Beyond the Pines", another well-executed drama with a definite crime flavoring. Also, I felt that the Pearl Jam number that opens and closes the film was a perfect choice for the intended vibe, and deserves a special mention. Overall, this movie is very well done, despite lacking the glamour and flash of an action flick. As a drama, I highly recommend it to fans of the genre.
An all-star cast, comprising Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody
Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, and Zoe Saldana (wow!), is
cast into the cavernous of troubles. Two brothers- one a former solider
who served in Iraq (Rodney, played by Casey Affleck) and the other an
impoverished factory worker (Russell, played by Christian Bale) -
embark on vastly disparate paths. Their relationship has lost its
bygone flare, considering Rodney's extensively damaged psyche and his
desire to stray away from standard work, instead choosing to make money
off of brutal street fighting and gambling. When he asininely involves
himself with ruthless wagering criminals (led by Woody Harrelson), all
circumstances invert and numerous lives are consequently affected.
The first half of the film carries an incredibly strong premise and features a truly gripping narrative that focuses on character development/characterization, which compellingly leads to the ultimate predicament. In essence, a major portion of the film's enticement should be accredited to the exceptionally powerful performances, and Casey Affleck remarkably fights for that recognition by showcasing his deteriorating soul. I mention Affleck specifically because he rarely receives ample praise for his impressive renditions. Furthermore, in that first half, the pacing is smooth and adequate as you sympathize with these distressed characters and are stunned by a sudden unfortunate incident after another, personalities still further strengthening. The arresting visual look of the film partially produces that final element of attraction to the end product.
As we proceed though and the midpoint sequence comes and goes, the pacing suddenly decelerates and we encounter additional characters and arcs that are frankly unnecessary and don't benefit the picture in any way. Once the credits roll, you don't feel like Forest Whitaker's character deserved the amount of screen time he ended up with, portraying an archetypal police officer and barely anything more. We're met with countless prolonged and dispensable scenes that are more stereotypical than beneficial to the film's substance and overall plot. The excitement of the first half, fueled by unpredictability and conflict, takes a nosedive and the thriller chooses to tediously capture the lengthy search for the villain alternatively. Finally, the audience is presented with an anticlimactic conclusion that again feels far too familiar and unsatisfying despite the enthralling story beforehand. There's essentially nothing unique in its final act to induce the amount of memorability that the first half accomplished since it ends like your typical run-of-the-mill revenge flick.
In sum, Scott Cooper effectively conveys the rural and destitute atmosphere, and the film is genuinely gritty and honest in its depiction of labor and the unrewarding lives that are led by courageous soldiers upon returning home. These are the lives of a considerably high percentage of America's population and the movie's thematic material speaks volumes on this controversial and profoundly relevant matter. Out of the Furnace certainly forces its viewers to react in particularly shocking sequences, eliciting a variety of emotions. Even though the film's quality noticeably degrades while it advances, this tale will undoubtedly provoke intrigue and fervor until the screen fades to black.
To be honest, after watching the trailer, i watched this movie only cause it had Bale in it. But it turned out to be surprisingly good with strong performances from everyone involved. Casey Affleck and Zoe Saldana deliver good work on screen. Woody Harelson is also very convincing as the Red neck villain. The director has managed to paint a pretty vivid picture of the environment that he wanted to portray. The storytelling is very engaging. Thumbs up to the director and his team for this effort. In the end, no review can be complete without praising the man who continues to amaze with each performance, Christian Bale. Believable and heart warming in this one. He manages to accomplish the one thing which was most needed from anyone who played this character and that is being able to get the audience to empathize with it. Bale succeeds and then some. Clearly one of his best works till date, and he has an impressive resume already to choose from. A must Watch movie of 2013.
Maybe I was just expecting too much. Having seen the trailer, I was wanting to see this one for a while and excited to finally get an opportunity. It started great - lots of action and let's face it - you really can't go wrong with these actors. They're superb. But.. even great acting couldn't save this one. I found myself clock staring for the whole last hour. The build to the climax was far too long and the climax was certainly the worst part of the film. It was one of those movies where you anticipate the many exciting, different ways the story could play out and when you see how it actually does, you just wish you had spent the night laying on the couch and watching something on Netflix. Wait for it to come out on Redbox. Shouldn't be long.
Scott Cooper takes a sharp turn from the school book tone of his last
film Crazy Heart and brings us to a more dismal world in Out of the
Furnace. Our hero, Russel Baze, (played smartly by Christian Bale), is
a well intentioned and responsible man who in trying to protect his
brother meets cruel and cold irony and is sent wayward in this ruined
world. Meanwhile his brother returns from deployment with a terrible
case of post traumatic stress disorder and brings his chaos into the
"imbred" and lawless hills of New Jersey, led by the degenerate Harlan
Degroat, (Woody Harrelson).
Now, the story in the vein of films like Deer Hunter and Winter's Bone, two films I personally admire for capturing the delicacy of people amid depressed communities. It's hard to say this film doesn't measure up. The lighting, sound, cinematography, editing, story, are all accomplished with the utmost professionalism. However, if the script fell into the wrong hands its flaws would easily be detected because the weakness of its integrity would show. The story takes too many short cuts to get where it needs to go. Some might already find it slow. It is after all a vignette of the decline of our hero.
However, what really made this movie work for me was the brilliant performances of the trait. William Dafoe as a local and smart small time boss. Sam Shepard as the uncle, a face of masculinity and integrity, Tom Bower as a complex and familiar bartender and gate man. Casey Affleck as the young and traumatized brother, Forrest Whitaker as the conflicted cop, Zoe Saldana as the girlfriend. Though, it's Harrelson who really steals the show, he's evil, beyond logic and powerful You can't wait to see him again and that antagonistic combination is rare and even more scarcely pulled off.
Out of the Furnace won't be nominated for best screenplay. However, in my eyes, it should get a nod for everything else.
Firstly, Christian Bale, like Sean Penn cannot really put a foot wrong in my book, having said that, I was disappointed with his character, far too much focus on mood shots and little on character development. Unlike other reviewers, a slow burn when cast correctly is a joy to watch and for the first hour I thought we had another 'Deerhunters', 'Nil By Mouth', 'Mystic River' & 'North Country' gritty realism of real life, not some $1M bonus farce created by selling hedged funds that 99% of people cannot relate to. However, cracks appeared quickly in how fast Bale was jailed, how quick his woman left him and how little their relationship mattered to the plot. I want to care for the characters and Saldana got zero screen time to care for her, so much so that when she announced her 'big' news, who really cared? Sam Shepherd was woefully underused and in my honest opinion, I felt sorry for the talent not utilized, again showing no respect to the role or character, he may as well have not been there. Whitaker was OK, but again, lack of promotion of the character, why would Saldana choose him over Bale? why would she not visit prison? Prison time was a joke and may as well not have been there. Affleck, whose voice irritates, really stepped up as did Willem Dafoe, who I am really enjoying of late in his roles and finally Woody Harrelson was on fire in this role. What you have here is a film that concentrates its focus in the wrong areas, relying far too much on a good cast list to carry it through and considering it is nearly 2 hours long seems rushed at the end. I still recommend this film simply as watching Bale & Harrelson is like watching Tiger Woods or Ronaldo.....even if they have a bad day, they are worth the entrance fee alone.
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