Out of the Furnace reviews

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Re: Out of the Furnace reviews

Postby ksrymy » Thu Jan 02, 2014 6:05 pm

I saw it. I thought the cinematography did a great job covering the Rust Belt feel. Casey Affleck is great as always. I agree with Sabin, it kind of fizzles out; however, I prefer this over Cianfrance's snore beyond the whines.
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Re: Out of the Furnace reviews

Postby Sabin » Thu Jan 02, 2014 10:49 am

Did nobody see this?

I enjoyed some of this film for Masanobu Takayanagi‘s cinematography and the vision of the backwaters. And it feels nicely coiled, ready to explode, but then after the midpoint it becomes clear that it won't. Not really. Christian Bale is quite good (everyone is) but he spends most of the film brooding, not acting on any impulse, and it becomes clear that Scott Cooper doesn't see this film as one part thriller, two parts American tragedy. Everybody embodies this material like it's the first time being done which for the first half is refreshing and eventually exhausting. Some very lovely shots and moments, but lost in the shuffle for very obvious reasons. I prefer The Place Beyond the Pines.
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Out of the Furnace reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Nov 13, 2013 10:47 pm

Christian Bale's "other" movie this season. Probably too small for this competitive year, but decent reactions.


November 9, 2013 | 08:00PM PT
'Crazy Heart' director Scott Cooper's sophomore feature is a powerfully acted descent into the hellfire of rusted-out steel town America.

Chief Film Critic
Scott Foundas
Chief Film Critic@foundasonfilm

The rusted-out soul of steel-town America and the ghosts of the 1970s post-Vietnam Hollywood cinema haunt Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace,” a starkly powerful drama that in some ways feels like an Iraq-era bookend to “The Deer Hunter,” with bare-knuckle boxing substituted for Russian roulette. A much darker and less audience-friendly package than Cooper’s Oscar-winning 2009 debut, “Crazy Heart,” but graced by the same lyrical sense of worn-down American lives, this slow-burning drama should earn deserved praise for the top-drawer performances of stars Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and a truly frightening Woody Harrelson, but will need a lot of TLC from distrib Relativity (which opens the pic wide on Dec. 6) to break out commercially in a very crowded holiday frame.

The furnace of the title is literally the Carrie Furnace of Braddock, Penn., the real Rust Belt town where Cooper’s pic is set. But it is also the fire that burns inside Rodney Baze (Affleck), a native son of Braddock who opted out of mill life the only way he could, by joining the Army. There, he’s served three tours of duty in Iraq and is, when the movie begins, about to be “stop-lossed” into a fourth — and one need look no further than Affleck’s anguished gaze to know that Rodney has seen and done things that mark a man for the rest of his life. Rodney’s more straight-arrow brother, Russell (Bale), did go to work in the mill, like their father before him, and has one of the few remaining jobs there in lean economic times. The year is 2008 and the Obama election is playing out on TV, but for places like Braddock, the promise of “change” seems as empty as most of the storefronts along the main streets.

And for much of the first hour of “Out of the Furnace,” Cooper (who rewrote the script by Brad Inglesby) steeps us in the dead-end mood of the place: the off-track betting parlor where Rodney gambles away money borrowed from an avuncular barkeep and bookie (Willem Dafoe); the forlorn drive-in movie theater where a hair-trigger tweaker named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) uncorks his rage on his unsuspecting girlfriend; and Carrie Furnace itself, blackening the Braddock skies in a permanent veil of soot. Shot “entirely and proudly” (per the end credits) on 35mm Kodak film by the cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (“The Grey,” “Silver Linings Playbook”), the images have an ashen pallor that calls to mind William Blake and his “dark Satanic mills.”

Things happen in “Out of the Furnace” with the violent, unpredictable force of life itself, rather than the reassuring rhythms of most screenplays. First, a late-night car accident lands Russell in jail on manslaughter charges, during which enough time passes for Rodney to take his fourth tour in Iraq, and for Russell’s girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) to leave him for the town sheriff (Forest Whitaker). The prison scenes carry their own brutal, unsparing power, and when Russell is finally released, Bale plays the moment remarkably, taking in a few deep breaths as if he were breathing air for the first time. These are the kind of small, character-revealing moments that Cooper, as he did in “Crazy Heart,” supplies in spades.

Affleck has a lean, prowling intensity here as the combat vet who, like the bomb-disposal ace paralyzed by the choices in a suburban supermarket in “The Hurt Locker,” cannot easily readjust to civilian life. So Rodney finds himself drawn into the local bare-knuckle fight scene, where the purses are low but the pain reliably numbing. And eventually he turns to Dafoe, asking for an introduction to DeGroat and the higher-stakes fights he runs in the deep backwoods of neighboring New Jersey — a decision that will come to bind all of these disparate characters in a cycle of tragedy and vengeance, a war at home to rival the one abroad.

Perhaps because he was originally an actor himself (“Gods and Generals,” “Get Low”), Cooper seems to make actors feel safe and willing to expose themselves in ways they ordinarily might not, and time and again he takes scenes to places of unexpected emotional power. Bale in particular has a series of strikingly fragile, tender moments here, forging an effortless brotherly bond with Affleck and playing a heartbreaking reunion scene with Saldana in which a lifetime of regrets and bad decisions seems to surge inside him. Harrelson is scarily effective as the movie’s hillbilly Walter White, precisely because he never descends into the lip-smacking movie villainy, always seeming — like all of the characters in “Out of the Furnace” — a product of his bleak environment. In their smaller roles, Dafoe, Whitaker and Sam Shepard (as the brothers’ grizzled uncle) all do sensitive, affecting, understated work.

But unlike many actor-directors, Cooper is an equally skilled visual storyteller, staging a SWAT team raid on DeGroat’s compound with an editorial sleight-of-hand borrowed from “The Silence of the Lambs” and always fostering a vivid sense of a place cut off from time and the world. When a character first mentions Jersey, it sounds as far away as Jerusalem. Superior work by production designer Therese DePrez (“American Splendor,” “Black Swan”) and costume designers Kurt & Bart (“Stoker”) adds to the lived-in milieu. Licensed for the first time for a movie soundtrack, Pearl Jam’s “Release” (in both its original and a newly re-recorded version) bookends the film with Eddie Vedder’s wailing, soulful refrain, while composer Dickon Hinchliffe (“Winter’s Bone”) provides the moody original score.

Hollywood Reporter
Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

A solid, well-acted tale about how the bad steps in when jobs fall away in the Rust Belt.

The sad, gray, economically parched Rust Belt setting is familiar from numerous fine recent films — The Fighter, Warrior, Unstoppable, Prisoners— and another solid one joins the list with Out of the Furnace. Director/co-writer Scott Cooper's second feature shares a similar melancholy, end-of-the-line tone with his first, Crazy Heart, while examining another part of the country that would seem to offer no hope of a better life to its residents short of escape. This well-wrought, rather prosaic working-class drama about two brothers whose dwindling prospects tilt them toward the overlapping criminal worlds of drugs and bare-fisted boxing looks to ride its volatile cast and violent tendencies to moderate box-office results.

A startling opening scene serves notice that some nasty business lies ahead. After a hopped-up hillbilly played by Woody Harrelson at full tilt shoves a cigar down the throat of his date at a drive-in movie (do they still have those in backwoods Pennsylvania?), he beats the absolute crap out of a gentleman who presumes to come to the distressed woman's assistance. After an entrance like this, audiences would cry foul if this psycho didn't dish out even more irrational violence later on. You can rest assured he delivers.

Set in 2008 -- as evidenced by a TV clip of Ted Kennedy enthusing about Barack Obama at the Democratic convention -- the central focus of the script by Brad Ingelsby and the director is the downward-spiraling lives of the Baze brothers, Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck). While their dad is expiring from cancer, Russell works at a mill that doesn't figure to be around much longer, while Rodney accumulates gambling debts between multiple tours of duty in Iraq.

Things go from bad to worse when Russell does a stretch in prison for negligence in a fatal auto accident. By the time he gets out, his girl Lena (Zoe Saldana) has taken up with the sheriff (Forest Whitaker), while Rodney has begun trying to pay back what he owes to local bookie Petty (Willem Dafoe) by participating in illegal bare-knuckle fights that have all the savoriness of cockfighting contests.

The impresario of such events, which are staged in remote abandoned factories, is none other than Harrelson's Harlan DeGroat, the territory's most notorious and elusive drug producer, dealer and, never to be outdone, user. He does not take kindly to being crossed, nor does he appreciate it when Rodney forgets to throw a fight he's supposed to. When, in an early encounter, Russell asks Harlan if he has a problem with him, DeGroat replies, “I got a problem with everybody.”

The dark and dangerous road this deterministic drama takes predictably leads to places so bad they're not on any map, and this is the type of literal-minded film that intercuts between two hunters stalking, shooting and dressing a deer and the deadly pursuit of a human being. Once at least a couple of important characters have had the bad luck to encounter Mr. DeGroat one too many times, it's quite clear that the missing second half of the titular proverb “Out of the furnace …” will be fulfilled.

DeGroat serves a function very close to the Kurtz character in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now as an embodiment of pure and irredeemable evil, the king of a jungle so far off any normal moral or geographic map that everyday law enforcement won't even venture there. It takes a loner to stalk the beast in his own territory, which is where the film ultimately travels.

But there is good character work along the way, even if it's more in the form of sketches than full-fledged portraits. Saldana's Lena is all bristling nerve endings and vibrantly available emotion. Affleck's four-tour Iraq vet is so accustomed to living on the edge and putting his life on the line that everything else seems boring. Owing money to DeGroat has made bookmaking far more perilous a profession for Dafoe's wizened veteran than he ever bargained for. Shepard offers gravitas as the young men's uncle who knew Braddock, Pennsylvania (where the film was made), when it was a thriving steel town rather than a depressing symbol of industrial and working class decay. Tom Bower projects the meek defeatedess of the go-along/get-along flunky. Whitaker actually has little to do other than to assert the parameters of his cop's jurisdiction and fruitlessly advise Russell not to take on DeGroat. In the meaty bad guy role, Harrelson entertainingly goes all the way, putting him way out there on the ledge with any of your favorite loonies, psychos and unhinged nutjobs; he's got something considerably more profane tattooed on his hands than Robert Mitchum did in The Night of the Hunter.

Bale throws himself into his role earnestly and impressively. Russell sincerely wants to do the right thing—by his father, his brother, his girlfriend and his life. But the limitations, constraints and possibilities for being tripped up in his attempt to do so are considerable even without a threat like DeGroat lurking about; one look at the town and you know there's little hope, but Russell has assumed too many responsibilities to shirk them by leaving. In some things he can make a difference, in others there is probably nothing anyone could do.

Craft contributions combine with the vivid locations to create a strong sense of place.

Screen Daily

Out Of The Furnace

13 November, 2013 | By Lee Marshall

Dir: Scott Cooper. US-UK. 2011. 115mins

You could melt iron in the heat generated by Christian Bale’s sizzling performance in Scott Cooper’s dark recessionary drama, set in what’s left of steel-belt America. The rest of the all-star cast of actors are pretty good too – and it’s this, coupled with the visual sheen and aural punch of a professionally assembled package, that stands the best chance of making the all-star producers’ money back.

The twilight mood is reinforced by the elegaic sunset photography of cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi whose sensitive work here could attract some awards season recognition alongside the obvious nod for Bale’s intense performance.

No matter that the script is assembled from hackneyed narrative spare parts, from the blue-collar hothead who returns from active service in Iraq to a hero’s welcome of indifference and unemployment, to the inbred, violent Appalachian rednecks who are, believe it or not, a law unto themselves; no matter that lines like “I love you man” or “just one last fight” seem written by a script machine on the ‘American tragedy’ setting.

Because although Out Of The Furnace is done utterly by the book, it also works by the book, delivering a tough, cathartic story straight, no chaser. And it may be that the script’s playsafe instinct, in the way it builds character and story, was intended to balance the risk inherent in the tone of that story: are US audiences ready to plumb the depths of recessionary gloom portrayed here, to wallow in post-industrial Springsteen settings without the uplift of the Boss’s music, just when things are (possibly) getting better? Hey, it’s a film: the answer will probably lie in what else is on that week, and how many dystopia-friendly viewers bereft by the end of Breaking Bad are on call on any given night. Outside of the US, the ‘been-there, seen-that’ nature of the plot could be a more serious issue.

We’re somewhere in the Pennsylvanian rustbelt – actually the town of Braddock, setting for the 1941 historical novel Out Of This Furnace from which the film takes its name, though not its story. Steelworker Russell Baze (Bale) is a good guy, tough but dependable, in a loving relationship with girlfriend Lena (Saldana). But Russell’s dad – also a steel man – is dying from some unspecified work-related illness, and his adored younger brother Rodney (a punchy, live-wire Affleck) is getting into the wrong kind of company while back home between tours of duty with the marines in Iraq – company like bar-owner, shady deal-broker and bare-knuckle fight impresario John Petty (Dafoe).

After paying off some of Rodney’s debts to Petty, Russell is involved in a drink-driving accident which lands him in the state penitentiary. Back on the outside, with his dad dead and Lena now shacked up with local police officer Wesley Barnes (Whitaker), Russell is shocked to discover that the war-traumatised Rodney – who refuses even to consider steel-mill work – has become a bare-knuckle boxer. Rodney’s reckless desire to prove himself leads him inexorably into the path of Appalachian backwoods psycho Harlan DeGroat (a magnificently malicious Woody Harrelson), whose bare-knuckle bouts make Petty’s look like high-school proms.

If many of its building blocks are clichéd – not least its Deliverance-style baddies – the film’s tense, tenebrous atmosphere feels real – because it enacts, in heightened dramatic terms, the frustrations of life in a steel town that’s winding down, and the crisis of male identity in a place where the dignity of work has been reduced to two guys beating the crap out of each other. Parallels – not always subtle, but effective – are drawn between jail time and army service, or between the alchemy of the steel furnace and alchemy of the backwoods meth lab.

The twilight mood is reinforced by the elegaic sunset photography of cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (Warrior, Silver Linings Playbook) whose sensitive work here could attract some awards season recognition alongside the obvious nod for Bale’s intense performance. The music, courtesy of Winter’s Bone composer Dickon Hinchcliffe, alternates jangly guitar rock with violin, cello and banjo breaks, culminating in Eddie Vedder belting out a new version of the Pearl Jam song Release recorded especially for the film. It works – both emotionally, and, more cynically, in terms of the kind of male thirty-to-forty-something demographic Out Of The Furnace is mostly aimed at.

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