‘Out of the Furnace’ Movie Review – Thrill of the Hunt
Dare to be different is a theme explored in many stories, but it’s too often ignored by directors themselves. Scott Cooper’s (Crazy Heart) Out of the Furnace (the story) doesn’t preach being different. In fact, it has a whole lot more to say thematically. However, Cooper’s script and final product stray far from the norm, making it an enjoyable picture for more than just the stellar performances.
For a quick rundown on the plot, I can tell you that Out of the Furnace primarily focuses in on the Baze family. Brothers Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) live in an economically-depressed area in Pennsylvania. The more depressing part, though, is the hand they’ve been dealt. Each brother, besides dealing with their dad’s waning health, have problems of their own that force them into no-win situations. Just when things can’t get any worse, Russell is forced to clean up after this brother’s shortcomings, which involve a dangerous (and super psychotic) crime ringleader (Woody Harrelson).
There are plenty of things that set Out of the Furnace apart from other thrillers, but setting is of the utmost importance. Besides rural Pennsylvania, the film partially takes place in the desolate, poverty-stricken Appalachian Mountain region. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how setting plays into conflict, but it’s definitely at the forefront here.
Great performances by Bale, Affleck, and Harrelson certainly aren’t anything new; therefore, Out of the Furnace becomes a friendly reminder of how great these actors are. Harrelson is definitely the most unique character, and his performance definitely shines through. Bale shows a little more growth (or change) throughout, but that’s basically because of the character and motivation.
Willem Dafoe also earns a shout-out with a noteworthy performance as the slimy bookie.
Structurally, the narrative follows a less traditional format. The script, which was written by Brad Ingelsby and Cooper himself, seems to try really hard to stay away from cliches. In most ways it appears to work. And even if it isn’t perfect (for me, this means the final fifteen minutes or so), the attempt is probably enough justification.
Another one of the most interesting parts, in my opinion, is the exploration and reoccurrence of hunting and survival. As far as themes go, it’d be easy to pick up on redemption. However, Cooper expertly shoots alternating parallel subplots while using hunting as a common motif. Although his use of setting seemed to stick out most at the beginning, it’s the subtle camerawork and precise parallel structure that probably deserves the most accolades.
Not all subplots end up working out to the film’s advantage. Often times stories will try to cram too many side stories into the narrative, and Out of the Furnace does take a hit in this department. Both Zoe Saldana and Forest Whitaker’s characters technically have a role in the overall plot, but their impact to the entire film is pretty ordinary. Their inclusion ultimately bloats the story quite a bit.
Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace fortunately only suffers from minor issues. In the grand scheme of things, both the attempt and the ultimate product are enough to positively champion the movie. The performances are spot-on, the tension is ratcheted up, and the narrative isn’t all that predictable. That last sentence should be enough on its own.
Out of the Furnace opened up on December 4th in L.A. and N.Y. before expanding nationwide yesterday.
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