'Out of the Furnace' is a bleak dramatic tour de force!
PHOTO BY RED GRANITE PICTURES
OUT OF THE FURNACE
Where is it playing?: Downtown Centre of San Luis Obispo, Stadium 10 of Arroyo Grande
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $8.00
What's it worth?: $8.00
Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) directs this drama he co-wrote with Brad Ingelsby. Set in the economically depressed Rust Belt, the story focuses on two brothers: Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney, Jr. (Casey Affleck), an Iraq war vet suffering from PTSD. They dream of escaping and finding better lives, but when a drunk driving accident lands Russell in prison, Rodney, Jr., is forced into bare-knuckle boxing matches to pay off his gambling debt to a sleazy bookie named Petty (Willem Dafoe). Rodney asks to box in a big match arranged by a violent meth dealer named DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), but after the match, Petty and Rodney disappear, and the police seem unable or unwilling to take on DeGroat. Now Russell must seek justice for his brother. (116 min.)
Glen: Relentlessly bleak but beautifully shot, Out of the Furnace is a meditation on the American underclass. The Baze brothers are indicative of the scant choices available to the poor. Older Russ follows in his father’s footsteps and grinds out a blue collar living in a steel mill; younger Rodney joins the military, where he cycles through four tours of Iraq, nearly breaking him. Their father (Bingo O’Malley) is slowly dying at home, cared for by his sons and brother Gerald “Red” Baze (Sam Shepard). Blood is thicker than water in this clan, and the Baze men are fiercely loyal to one another. But when Russ is sent to prison, he can no longer look out for his erratic younger brother, and Rodney behaves like he’s got nothing to lose. Russ, on the other hand, pines for his pre-prison girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana), who in his absence has taken up with police chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker). This incredible cast delivers superb performances, but this glimpse into these lives is depressing in the case of the Baze family and disturbing in the case of DeGroat and his gang of tweeker thugs. Russ is a good man, but he’s left with impossible choices. The joy of the film is watching him try to navigate an honorable path through the chaos of his life.
Steve: About every one in 10 films we see is as beautiful as this one is. As I sat and watched the unfolding drama, I was absolutely taken by the cinematography because I was wishing I had taken the photos of these people and locations in the exact compositions cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi did. The filming actually reminded me of one of my all-time favorite films, Road to Perdition, in terms of the angles, the compositions, and the obvious amount of thought put into every shot. I also really appreciated the “natural light” style that showcased how emotional you can become with the camera when you’re not using tons of fill light and after-the-shot computer effects to grade the film (grading is the color correcting and exposure/contrast changes done in post process for the film industry). I have to say, I’ll probably watch this movie again for the way it was filmed alone. On to the plot, though: a ponderous, bleak (both Glen and our buddy Jim Mallon used this word) revenge story that is so insanely sad because Russell Baze has all that he needs in the beginning of the story and ends up with nothing in the end: (spoilers here): brother dead; father dead; girlfriend who wants his child, gone. Blood is thicker than water, perhaps, but in the end, blood evaporates and leaves an indelible stain.
Glen: I do believe this film inspired Mr. Miller toward more poetic prose! “Indelible stain” indeed! The mirror opposite the honorable Baze family is DeGroat’s corrupt collection of depraved meth heads. I don’t really think of New Jersey as being home to “inbred hillbillies,” as DeGroat’s “family” is referred to throughout the film. It’s easy to forget that the coal region and rustbelt runs right up through West Virginia, into Pennsylvania and on to New Jersey and New York. Clannish, insular people living in economically depressed areas populate much of the East Coast and Midwest. This is a story about them. DeGroat is the equivalent of a modern day moonshiner, but instead of grain alcohol, he’s cooking up speed, which he injects between his toes. We meet DeGroat in the very first scene, and he’s an explosively violent man. The first time he and Russ cross paths, Russ says, “Do you have a problem with me?” And DeGroat snarls, “I’ve got a problem with everybody.” Steve’s right that all the violence and revenge lead nowhere, so this film may strike some as nothing more than abject tragedy, but hey, if it was entertaining enough for the Greeks, it should be entertaining enough for you. I was thoroughly wrapped up in the plot and characters.
Steve: I really didn’t get the whole New Jersey hillbilly thing either; who knew that Jersey was so diverse? This is a Greek tragedy combined with a bit of the Marquis de Sade, a slice of the violent, nasty underworld that unfortunately does really exist out there in the real world. What makes this film all the more powerful is that anyone with access to the news knows these situations really do occur and probably with even more drama than what was shown to us on the silver screen. The cast’s acting was compelling and genuine, the story is dark and unforgiving, and it left me with questions at the end that were not about inanities; instead, they were about the “Why?” and the “What would I have done, if I were in the same situation?” Worth the money? Well, I didn’t exactly know what was going to happen in the end until it showed up on the screen, so for that reason I say it’s worth the cash.
Glen Starkey is a Sun contributor and New Times staff writer, and Steve Miller is the papers’ staff photographer. Comment at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.