There is an unnerving moment deep inside the working-class drama
Painful, searing, eloquent, it puts the film's central themes of ordinary folks weathering the worst of times in sharp relief.
As he will throughout, older brother Russell absorbs it, bears the unbearable, does not look away.
Though the blue-collar Baze brothers are the visceral spine of this film, it begins and ends with a backwoods
Bale, Affleck and Harrelson are in their element as men battered by life, delivering exceptional performances that hold nothing back. Bale and Affleck are as nuanced as Harrelson is unhinged. It is among the finest work done by all three.
The film opens in 2008 on the eve of
Cooper sets a very deliberate pace, taking his time to move the story forward several years as Russell and Rodney are each forced to deal with a series of bad choices. It will include prison time for Russell and more of Iraq for Rodney. The film ultimately turns on Rodney's disappearance into the bare-knuckle circuit that Degroat runs in the Ramapo Mountains and Russell's determination to set things right.
For all the violence — and this is a brutal film — there is a stirring tenderness of tough men tucked into the creases. A kiss on the head of a failing father, orchids tended by hardscrabble hands, the details of real life, real strife beautifully captured. A steady stream of irony slips in too, the way Cooper plays images off each other always leaves room for interpretation — Rodney taking a beating in a fixed fight, Russell and Red miles away skinning the deer newly brought down.
The film was shot on location in Braddock, and from the factory to the streets, the authenticity lends a texture to the imagery that echoes Dorothea Lange's Depression-era photographs. A long-vacated factory provides an eerie backdrop for the penultimate face-off between Russell and Degroat.
Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi captures the contrasts as the film shifts between the languishing town and the natural beauty of rural Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It is all set to the backwoods chords of
Bale, in particular, moves with such grace within the tableau and the loose narrative of the film. A world of worn-down weariness to be found in his thousand-yard stares.
Much is left unsaid, unexplained. Scenes sometimes move from one moment to the next, at other times entire years pass unmarked, unmentioned. The technique lends an out-of-time feel to the film; instead of quick cuts, Cooper often lingers. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's disorienting. But the slow pull of the performances stand in opposition to the rising tension to nice effect. Vengeance, when it comes, brings resolution but no release.
"Out of the Furnace" is not an easy film, almost as rough on the psyche as the fights Rodney gets into. It's as unrelenting as the tough times it portrays.
'Out of the Furnace'
MPAA rating: R for strong violence, language and drug content.
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Playing: At Arclight Hollywood; Landmark Theatre, West Los Angeles