Christian Bale and Casey Affleck lead an impressive cast through this blue-collar tale of life in the backwoods of Northeast America. Seeing as it’s awards season, this movie relies on the strength of the actors to carry this movie, and they do.
Russell Baze (Bale) and his younger brother Rodney (Affleck) live a hum-drum life in the rust belt. Russell works his days at the town’s steel mill, while Rodney, an Iraq war veteran, drifts through life trying to earn money through underground fighting rings. Russell leads a happy life with his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana), but through an unfortunate accident, he winds up in prison. Once he is released, his life doesn’t get much better. Rodney is still fighting and getting in deeper with the wrong people. He comes across a backwoods crime lord/boxing syndicate runner named Curtis Degroat (Woody Harrelson) and that encounter changes the brothers’ lives forever.
Suffice it to say that this is a very bleak movie. It masterfully shows the audience a window of life in a region of America that you wouldn’t think could exist at this point. For example, the authorities’ hands are so tied when it comes to bringing a frontier type justice to Degroat that they don’t even bother. This movie echoes the Jennifer Lawrence starrer, Winter’s Bone, in more ways than one. There are essentially zero moments of happiness.
The two Baze brothers seem to be stuck in their pocket of the world. While Rodney will never be satisfied working in the mill like his father and brother, he would rather not work for a living and tries to make a quick buck wherever he can. Russell, on the other hand, is easily pleased. It’s the simple pleasures like family life that get him through his days. Though, when much of that is taken away, he seems to act as if he has nothing to lose.
Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) builds momentum by establishing his characters and building the movie around them. Few movies this year have given so much characterization to characters in a short matter of minutes. Sadly, the movie’s downfall is that, being a “small” story, the end result is a little anticlimactic. Once it’s over and you take the time to process the movie, you have to wonder what message Cooper was trying to get across with this movie.
Woody Harrelson might just be the most intimidating villain of the year. His slimy hillbilly kingpin character is so off-the-handle and unpredictable that even those who’ve worked with him before (like Willem Dafoe’s bookie character) are hesitant to ever meet with him in person. Filling out the rest of the supporting cast are Sam Shepard and Forest Whitaker. There is no weak link in regards to the acting.
This movie belongs to Bale and Affleck. In many ways, Affleck almost steals the movie. And Bale continues to show his range and establishes himself as one of the most talented actors working today. With the amount of Oscar bait releasing the end of this month, I don’t think this movie will get too much love in terms of nominations. Bale will just miss the cut for best actor (though he still has a chance with American Hustle). He shares a reunion scene with Saldana’s character that is outright heartbreaking. In the span of 3 minutes, it told a better story than most movies this year. I would like to see Affleck get the nod for Best Supporting Actor.
Out of the Furnace is not an opening weekend movie. If bleak movies are up your alley, go right ahead. Catch this one when it comes out on video and you won’t be disappointed.