“…a film photographed and shot as grimly as its subject matter.”

Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace concerns the heavy topics of veteran-neglect and trying to readapt to the normalcy of home and work after you’ve just seen things that are profoundly abnormal. There are few opportunities for veterans returning home from their service, and even fewer opportunities for people stuck in working class/working poor areas and that’s a depressing thing to note in the proclaimed “greatest country in the world.”

The film concerns mill-worker Russell (Christian Bale) and Iraqi vet Rodney Baze (Casey Affleck), two brothers living in the economically-broken land of the Rust Belt, an area still heavy in industrialization lying off the east coast. When Russell lands himself a stint in prison, Rodney becomes involved in ruthlessly violent, bare-knuckles boxing games that give him quick money but scar him physically and mentally even quicker. Rodney soon spirals deeper into the madness, involving himself with a lawless mountain-man named Curtis DeGroat (Woody Harrelson in one of the most ominous and frightening performances in his career), who we see abusing a woman and eventually nearly beating to death another man at a drive-in movie during the opening scene of the film. Upon being released from prison, Russell believes he needs to make an attempt at saving his brother from certain doom, but can only do that by etching himself into the sick world.

Out of the Furnace
Directed by
Scott Cooper
Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana
Release Date
6 December 2013
Steve’s Grade: B

Here is a film photographed and shot as grimly as its subject matter. The film’s gray and black color patterns, shown while photographing dingy, dilapidated housing in this low-income neighborhood far too many people inhabit, are only germane to its central storyline. When Out of the Furnace gives us a glimpse at the drug problems in the area is when this depiction comes full circle. We see how disgusting the area already is and we see how the manufacturing and solicitation of drugs has contributed to the murky, decrepit landscape that is the working poor sector of the United States.

Christian Bale does some fine work as Russell, a man working in a tolerable job at a mill, much like his father. Bale will be seen playing a slick, confident hustler later this month in American Hustle (in a film, I presume, will be seen by many more people in addition) but we see that even with roles under his belt showcasing a polished, brasher individual he can still function well inhabiting the characteristics of an uncertain and disillusioned one.

Casey Affleck, however, should no longer have to live in the quieter light of his brother. Affleck has gone onto make gripping dramas in his life, from Gerry and Gone Baby Gone, but has seemingly been shortchanged while his brother’s films go on to gross huge money and achieve Oscar-status. Affleck’s performance here is terrific; perhaps one would be able to call it a tour-de-force of sorts. He fearlessly inhabits the role of a character who has been cheated and abused by an unjust system that doesn’t seem to value his risks and accomplishments.

Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography and Cooper’s writing (written alongside Brad Ingelsby) made me recollect on last year’s stroll down the road of melancholy Killing Them Softly. The film, which was released during this time last year, modeled its themes around the death of the American Dream and the slow, painful demise of the organized crime world. It painted its landscape in a crisp light, despite its depressing images that seemed to offer no hope whatsoever to those involved with either the crime world or the working class life. However, the film was bogged down by relentlessly meaningless dialog, that felt like its main purpose was to extend the film to feature-length status. Out of the Furnace manages to provide these characters with more of a human focus, rather than provide them with questionably relevant dialog and tediously-paced sequences.

This is a miserable movie, however. One that offers no really points of optimism or enthusiasm. It’s as bleak as the lives many live who are stuck in these seemingly hopeless situations, and anyone who uses the words “depressing” or “melancholic” to criticize Out of the Furnace‘s depiction of this reality should not even be reviewing the film in the first place. They need to research or live the reality.

Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic