Out Of The Furnace

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Director: Scott Cooper.
Screenplay: Scott Cooper,
Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower, Dwight Wolfe.

Working for a living? I gave my life for this country and what’s it done for me? Huh? What’s it done for me?

After finally helping Jeff Bridges to a long overdue Oscar in “Crazy Heart“, director Scott Cooper follows up that tale of a downward spiralling musician with another one of downward spiralling blue collar workers. Narratively, it’s lacking a certain something but one thing’s for sure with Cooper; he certainly knows how to bring out the best from his actors.

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With a cruel twist of fate, Russell Baze (Christian Bale) lands himself in prison after a driving offence. While inside, his terminally ill father passes away and his younger, ex-soldier, brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) takes to bare-knuckle fighting to pay off debts. When Russell is released, he finds that Rodney is in over his head with a ruthless crime ring led by Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). When Rodney eventually disappears, Russell takes matters into his own hands.

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If the town depicted in “Out Of The Furnace” feels familiar then that’s because it’s likely reminding you of the same Pennsylvania steel-mill town that was the setting for Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter” in 1978. It would also seem that Scott Cooper is intent on regularly referencing Cimino’s classic throughout the films duration; it channels a similar theme of a lack of opportunities for the characters and even though some serve their country in war (Iraq steps in for Vietnam this time) they are forgotten about when they return home. We also get to stare down the scope of a hunting rifle now and again, and there’s even a scene where actual deer hunting takes place. And the point of it all, I hear you ask? Well, to be frank, I’m not particularly sure. Maybe Cooper is trying to tell us that so many years – and wars – down the line nothing has changed for these working class people. They’re mere fodder and left to go back to their land of opportunity were opportunity doesn’t really exist for them. This could be Cooper’s intention or it could just be that I’m reading into his script a little too deeply when it’s highly possible that there is no depth in the first place. Somewhere there’s a commentary on the economic state of contemporary America but the message is muddled somewhat, as it veers into a generic backwoods crime thriller.

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The film is a strangely frustrating experience whereby what you see in front of you is visually commanding but it’s hard to connect to the character’s and their plight. The weakness of the script is apparent and it’s difficult to grasp the film as anything more than a revenge flick that leaves a slightly nasty aftertaste. That being said, Cooper is certainly a director that has a good eye and feel for detail and he has a full command over his splendid ensemble. It’s the solid performances that really make the film tick. Not that any further proof is required in terms of their acting abilities but a smoulderingly intense Affleck and a snarling, brutish Harrelson really excel and great (all-be-it, underwritten) support is delivered from Whitaker and Dafoe. It’s Bale who impresses most, though, in one of his most effective and understated roles. There’s nothing heroic about him. He’s simply a soulful man with a deep sense of family commitment and refuses to yield when anyone threatens that.

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As much as I couldn’t see what the point of the whole affair was, I still went along with it. It’s deliberately paced and still manages to hold your attention. As a director, Cooper shows a lot of promise but he needs to tighten up on his writing duties. When that happens, I suspect we’ll see a real improvement on this potentially solid filmmaker.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: Viggo Mortensen was first approached and Billy Bob Thornton was considered for the role that eventually went to Woody Harrelson.

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43 Responses to “Out Of The Furnace”

  1. Muckers – I keep seeing this pop up to rent but I haven’t felt like investing my time in some high art, pretentious christian bale shit. Think I would like this?

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    • It’s actually a decent flick, bro. I’d give it a go. I couldn’t quite understand the point of it all but it’s got plenty to enjoy and even though I wondered what I’d just watched, I still really liked it. It’s worth some attention.

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  2. Great review, as always, and I love the hit of trivia at the end. If I were looking at the casting options on paper for the role of ruthless crime ringleader, I would hands down pick Billy Bob over Woody. Not that I don’t think Woody could do it, just from a glance on paper if those were the options…

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    • Thanks Smash! Personally, I’m a big Viggo fan and would love to see what he’d have done with this. But that would just be taking away from Harrelson, who’s actually quite brilliant here. All of them are! Thats what keeps the film afloat. The performances are outstanding!! 🙂

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  3. Though the material is a bit thin, the cast goes to town with it and makes us see why it is they are worth watching in the first place. Especially Bale, who owns this movie with his quiet-demeanor and lanky-look. Good review Mark.

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    • Cheers Dan. The actors certainly delivered the goods and raised the film above a mediocre standard. I’m a fan of them all but Bale was particularly solid here.

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  4. Great Review, Mark. Love the cast and it seemed like it had potential, but ends up being mediocre. Will probably just rent. 🙂

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  5. Excellent review. Agree on all points. The whole is less than the sum of its parts.

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  6. Bravo Mark, astute review. I do have to say you’re onto something when you comment on not knowing exactly what the film is ultimately trying to say with all of these events. I scratched my head a bit, too. But for me, the performances were so captivating I was blind to most of the script’s weaknesses (and looking back, there were quite a lot). I loved it. I loved Harrelson and I loved Bale. Both were dynamite man.

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    • Can’t argue at all about the performances, Tom. Everyone done done some fine work but the three leads, in particular, were superb. I think Bale had the hardest role, though, and still came out to be the most impressive. I can understand your love for it. I found plenty to admire too and in hindsight, I might be being a tad harsh on a 3 star rating. It was the script that let the film down a bit.

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  7. Always liked the look of this film but I’ve never managed to see it. Cooper’s Crazy Heart is an endearing outing too, which gives me even more reason to see Out of the Furnace. Great review Mark!

    Adam.

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    • It’s a decent flick, Adam. The story is a bit on the light, meandering side but the performances are top-notch. Cooper is definitely a director who can get the best from his actors but his writing needs tightened up a bit.

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  8. Great review Mark! Though I’m a big fan of Bale’s, for some reason I’m not enthused about this one. “…it’s hard to connect to the character’s and their plight” Well that’s definitely frustrating, esp since there are so many revenge plot in films it seems, that you’d want a good story to really set it apart and make us care.

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    • Thanks Ruth. As a fan of Bale, this is worth checking out. It’s a very subdued and gentle performance but still very powerfully delivered. I always enjoy Bale myself and this has actually become one my favourite performances of his.

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  9. Nice review, Mark. Definitely agree that this movie was mostly an actors showcase. The performances were tremendous, but the writing left a bit to be desired.

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    • Cheers Chris. I totally agree with you. The writing could have been stronger but there’s no doubting the commitment that the actors put in. They make it worthwhile.

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  10. Top review mate. Seems a decent watch and a pretty top cast. Definitely Saturday night rental material it seems like!

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  11. Fantastic review Mark. I hear what you are saying but I must say it appears I enjoyed it significantly more than you did. I thought it was a good one!

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    • Thanks Zoe. I didn’t dislike it and thought there was much to admire (particularly the performances and the sense of realism) but I couldn’t quite grasp the meaning behind it all. It felt a little empty to me. Still, I can appreciate that others would have taken more from it than I did.

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      • I get what you are saying though. Maybe when I watched it it had to do with the fact my mood matched what I was seeing, so it just sucked me in a lot more.

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      • Yeah, I kinda felt the same way. The mood was spot on but I wasn’t fully understanding the socio-political message it was trying to convey. That being said, I did initially rate it 3.5 stars but notched it down slightly as a result of the muddled message. Still a decent flick, though.

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      • Yeah I missed that message too. It was a little bit all over the show. Hmmmm, completely reasonable.

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      • Haha! I’d still recommend this to folk. 3stars or above is always a recommendation from me. Anything below and your taking matters into your own hands 😉

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      • Definitely, a three is high enough. I am the same. Anything below 6 (so your 3) is just dangerous hahaha!

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      • Indeed it is. If you still watch something below a 3 then I can’t be held responsible. I did try try to warn you beforehand. 😉

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      • You rate extremely fairly and objectively, so I can take recommendations from you seriously. You don’t get swept up into hype as much as some people can, and I appreciate that.

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      • That’s kind of you to say, Zoe. Cheers! As you know, It can be a tricky business putting a rating on something. I do try to remain objective but even I’ll allow bias to cloud my judgment sometimes. I do my best to remain fair, regardless of mass opinion and I’ll always try and explain my reasons.

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      • It’s the truth. I know, jeesh sometimes I put mine in brackets then go back and forth on the merits and the shortfalls for an age! We all allow it to happen, but not EVERY review you put out is like OH MY GOSH THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER (that can really annoy me sometimes – not all movies are created equal. Some are created more equal than others :P). At least you formulate your opinions really well (I wrote Critical Reasoning yesterday, so that is all I have been looking at recently), so they make sense!

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      • I try to mix my reviews up a little too. Sometimes I can watch three or four films in a row that I’d rate very highly but I don’t want people thinking I just give out great ratings all the time, so I’ll throw in a few stinkers here and there to break it up. 😉

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      • 😛 Scoundrel! However, totally makes sense!

        Then again, sometimes we are cursed with watching a whole bunch of stinkers directly after one another. Nothing more annoying than that. And not all of us make a living quite like Mr Isaacs haha!

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      • Ha! Yeah, there are times when it’s utter garbage one after another too. I try to pick my films wisely, though. I often get an idea beforehand but the occasional (good or bad) surprise comes along now and then.

        I don’t really don’t know how Mr. Isaacs keeps motivated with some of the things he watches 😉

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      • Haaaaaaa, we can always try. But then there are times where something just doesn’t gel for you, no matter the consensus.

        You know? I watch a crappy film and I want to chuck my PC and TV out, never to be seen again. Then I remember that there are glorious things that need to be watched on there still…

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      • Well, crappy films still have their place, I suppose. They can often be quite fun to tear apart too. I actually find it easier to slate a film than praise it. It’s a tough racket this reviewing business. 😉

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      • They can be a lot of fun, no denying that, but then you just get so awful that there is nothing decent to take from it, not even to rag.

        Pffff, we should get paid!

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      • Getting paid for this stuff is a dream of us all, I think. I’m still waiting on the day that someone will just give me a job for the sake of it. 🙂

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      • That would be the life…

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      • Keep the hope and dream alive, Zoe. You never know! 🙂

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    Like

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