Out of the Furnace, 2013.
Directed by Scott Cooper.
Starring Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker.
When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement doesn’t follow through fast enough, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own hands to find justice.
Sometimes a film rolls around that reminds you just how great an actor Christian Bale is. While the award deciders have been pointing to American Hustle as the front running candidate that showcases Bale’s ability, they should have been looking to Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace – a movie that proves he is one of the best actors of our generation. He just needs the right script, the right passion and the right direction – and Out of the Furnace has all of that in spades.
This is less of a film about ‘plot’ and more about character. It’s a movie in which their actions and choices dictate where the film is heading as opposed to the script and story moving them forward. The main focus of is on brothers Russell (Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) who are dealing with rehabbing their lives in polarising ways after their father’s death. Russell comes out of prison to find that his girlfriend has left him for another man and decides to work just as his father did while Rodney, fresh from his fourth tour of Iraq, chooses the more violent path of bare-knuckle boxing to release his anger and frustration. This all comes to a head when Rodney gets involved with a drug-peddling lunatic played by Woody Harrelson and Russell is “called into action” to find him.
The homages to films like Deer Hunter are clear and the rip-off of Silence of the Lambs is evidence enough that Cooper is a man who loves the cinema days of old. The days in which, as he would tell you, art came first and marketing came second. But this high level of pretension does produce a very enthralling movie with solid performances from all the cast, impeccable direction and a tight script which doesn’t hold the hand of its audience. Out of the Furnace is a very patient movie and it’s one that doesn’t spoon feed you information and motivations with several scenes starting in the middle of conversations – requiring you to fill in the gaps yourself. This isn’t lazy script writing (as you’re never clueless as to what is going on) and is instead Copper’s way of showing his trust that you are not an idiot that needs everything spelled out to understand. He is also a director that doesn’t sugar coat violence, as evident in the brutal and wince-enduing fight scenes, but also does bow to the Hollywood ideals of ‘a big finish’, instead giving us a more dramatic, character driven conclusion. It’s a refreshing change of pace from most cinema trips where bells and whistles are bread and butter.
But that’s not to say Out of the Furnace is a masterpiece, or indeed one of the better films of the year. It’s homages, while nice for the director, can be sloppy and obvious in execution and its slow tone is almost a detriment to the film’s pace. It’s one thing for a movie to drive in the slow lane until it reaches its destination, but Cooper often slams on the brakes for moments that end up being entirely pointless. When handled correctly, an homage can be a nice nudge and wink to the audience, but in Out of the Furnace they feel added in solely for the director to enjoy and not for any artistic purpose. Furthermore, the mumbly low-key dialogue delivery can often be difficult to take in and even when characters say their lines twice, you still can’t make them out and require a third read – like having a detailed conversation with someone in a noisy club.
Out of the Furnace is a movie made by a movie snob, for movie snobs – but that is not a bad thing. Cooper is a director who appreciates the artistry that comes with making a film and this slow, methodical and character driven movie is a testament to that. It certainly isn’t for everyone and some may find its patient pace irritating, but the performances and script really drive home what will be certainly one of the better acted movies of 2014.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.