There’s little doubt that writer/ director Scott Cooper is a fan of The Deer Hunter as he sets his latest film, Out Of The Furnace, in a Pennsylvania steel town, has major characters returning from a contentious war and has in Christian bale, a lead character who, like Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter, is taciturn, resourceful, goatee-bearded and a deer shooter. Unfortunately, the similarities between the two films are superficial as this dour and glacially paced film has none of the emotional punch or visual poetry of The Deer Hunter.
Bale plays the decent but troubled steel worker Russell Baze who, after a prison stint, moves in with his Iraq war veteran brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) in steel town, Braddock Pennsylvania. Rodney, Russell discovers is eking out a living fighting in back-alley boxing matches for local small-time hood John Petty (Willem Dafoe). When Rodney convinces Petty to let him fight for the vile redneck criminal, Harland de Groot (Woody Harrelson), he draws everyone around him, including Russell, into a deadly criminal underworld.
Set in an economically-depressed working class town with characters literally scarred by their involvement in the Iraq war, this film attempts to capture the miserable state of GFC-era America. While the steel town residents’ grim existence is vividly depicted, the film doesn’t say anything particularly profound about the parlous state of a nation losing its grip on power and its identity. The film soon turns into a simple revenge thriller which, while occasionally tense and infused with red neck menace, contains nothing we haven’t seen before.
Bale typically inhabits his character and makes Russell a believably moral but flawed man while Woody Harrelson is suitably repulsive as the murderous, drug-peddling hillbilly de Groot. The rest of the cast, however, are wasted in underwritten roles. Casey Affleck, when not fighting, is allowed to do little more than whine and occasionally yell at people while Sam Shepard, who plays Russell and Rodney’s uncle, looks as if he’s wandered onto the set by mistake. Willem Dafoe’s character Petty also has little chance to develop while Russell’s girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) and local Police Chief Wesley (Forest Whitaker) are almost peripheral characters.
With its phenomenal cast, Out of the Furnace had enormous promise but it winds up as a slow, relentlessly grim, self-important and humourless film. While nowhere near as disappointing as last year’s star-packed stinker The Counsellor, Out of the Furnace is still one of year’s biggest let-downs.
Nick’s rating: **1/2
Genre: Crime Drama.
Classification: MA 15+.
Director(s): Scott Cooper.
Release date: 27th Feb 2014
Running time: 116 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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