A solid vengeance film with period poignancy.
Out of the Furnace
Director: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart)
Screenplay: Brad Ingelsby, Cooper (Crazy Heart)
Cast: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone)
Runtime: 116 min
by John DeSando
“And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?”
Jerusalem (William Blake)
The memorable quality of the solidly acted Out of the Furnace is not the revenge plot, which has become a staple of Hollywood filmmaking for decades, e.g., Straw Dogs, Kill Bill, Quantum of Solace, Prisoners, but rather the unusually fine cinematography of Dickon Hinchliffe (Winter’s Bone). The dreary grey of 2008’s Pennsylvania Rustbelt and the Carrie Furnace is perfectly evoked, with nary a hint of color.
The steel mills are not so much “Satanic” as darkly emblematic of a dying manufacturing world, not yet qualifying for the change that Ted Kennedy promised about Barack Obama. Rodney Baze (Casey Affleck), a 3-time Iraq warrior is imprisoned by bare-knuckled fighting to pay his debts to the local “inbred” mob. His loving brother, Russell (Christian Bale) pursues Rodney’s abductors to the Ramapo Mountains with the precision of a hunter, reminding too obviously us of the Pennsylvania scene in the working class world of Deer Hunter.
Out of the Furnace is a film for actors: Besides Bale’s Oscar-baiting ability to forge a strong but flawed character, Woody Harrelson’s bad guy New Jersey hillbilly, Harlan DeGroat (“I got a problem with everybody’), is amusingly over the top, the true Satan among these mills. I figured director Scott Cooper, who coaxed an Oscar out of Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), could have tempered Harrelson but didn’t.
I can’t leave out Casey Affleck’s damaged brother, whose longing to finally right things is a tragic inevitability, despite his good-looking rebel. His post trauma from Iraq is apparent.
Out of the Furnace is about the disorienting effect of war, lost jobs, and the deteriorating quality of life in a former manufacturing Mecca. Cooper keeps the images of the spewing smoke stacks and poorly appointed living in front of our eyes every few minutes. However these bleak images are so beautifully painted that you almost forget the dismal lives they represent. Other artistry is the music, no more poignant than Pearl Jam’s “Release” in old and new format beginning and end of film.
“Those that go gold into the furnace will come out no worse.” Matthew Henry
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com