Review: ‘Out of the Furnace’ beautifully captures bare-knuckle lives
The role: Dr. Ryan Stone, the beginner astronaut suddenly stuck in space when her space shuttle is damaged, and her thirst for life deepened.
The final pick: Sandra Bullock. Jolie was set to star alongside Robert Downey Jr. But Jolie’s management team wasn’t able to come to an agreement with Warner Bros.
The movie: “The Matrix” series
The role: Neo, a superhuman with the power to perform every single martial art and fighting style.
The final pick: Keanu Reeves. Smith passed on the role because he couldn’t envision the concept of “The Matrix.” Looking back, Smith said he wouldn’t have been “smart” enough to play the role at the time. He later starred in the sci-fi action film “I, Robot.”(Melinda Sue Gordon / Warner Bros.; Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for MTV)
The role: Bella Swan, a teenager turned vampire with the skill to shield herself and others from mental harm. All the while, she’s madly in love with mind-reading vampire Edward Cullen.
The final pick: Kristen Stewart. Lawrence later landed the role of Katniss Everdeen in the equally popular series “The Hunger Games.”(Samir Hussein / Getty Images; Kimberley French)
The movie: “Michael Clayton”
The role: Michael Clayton, an attorney with a conscience, who breaks down the corruption surrounding a chemical scandal.
The final pick: George Clooney. To this day, Washington regrets turning down the role. “With ‘Clayton,’ it was the best material I had read in a long time, but I was nervous about a first-time director, and I was wrong,” Washington said.(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press; Myles Aronowitz)
The role: Forrest Gump, a not-so intelligent former military man set to tell the story of his life.
The final pick: Tom Hanks. Travolta simply turned down the role and later admitted his decision was a mistake. For Hanks, the role earned him an Oscar for best actor in 1994.(Francois Durand / Getty Images )
The role: Cher Horowitz, the wealthy Valley girl up for anything that involves fashion, makeovers and, like, boys.
The final pick: Alicia Silverstone. Gellar couldn’t commit due to scheduling conflicts.(Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press; Paramount Pictures)
The role: Will Turner, an ace swordsman and budding pirate.
The final pick: Orlando Bloom. Law auditioned for the role to play Keira Knightley’s love interest, but was shoved aside for Bloom.(Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images; Peter Mountain / Disney Enterprises )
The role: Black Widow, a femme fatale formerly known as a Russian spy.
The final pick: Scarlett Johansson. Blunt passed on the role saying: “Usually the female parts in a superhero film feel thankless: She’s the pill girlfriend while the guys are whizzing around saving the world.”(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times; Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)
The role: Gandalf, a wizard and leader of the Fellowship of the Ring with great mental and physical power.
The final pick: Ian McKellen. Despite director Peter Jackson’s many attempts for Connery to play Gandalf -- he offered Connery $30 million on top of 15% of the film’s box office revenue -- Connery said he simply didn’t understand the story. During his audition read, Connery mistakenly referred to hobbits as bobbits.(Jason Szenes / EPA; New Line Productions)
The role: Vivian Ward, an assertive Hollywood Boulevard prostitute who finds love with a wealthy lawyer.
The final pick: Julia Roberts. Hannah rejected the role since she believed it was belittling to women. “They sold it as a romantic fairytale when in fact it’s a story about a prostitute who becomes a lady by being kept by a rich and powerful man,” Hannah said. Hannah, however, later portrayed a stripper in the drama “Dancing at the Blue Iguana.”(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times; Buena Vista / Getty Images)
The role: Spider-Man, the web-slinging, wall-crawling figure who has proved to be one of the most commercially successful superheroes.
The final pick: Tobey Maguire. A disappointed Prinze Jr. told late-night radio personality Howard Stern that he was originally cast as Spider-Man, but director Sam Raimi went with Maguire instead.(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times; Merrick Morton / Columbia Pictures)
The role: Han Solo, a sarcastic yet compassionate hero who helps for the common good.
The final pick: Harrison Ford. Al Pacino dismissed the role, saying: “It was mine for the taking but I didn’t understand the script.” Pacino turned down the “Star Wars” series and later starred in the Godfather trilogy, but found it to be “a long, awful, tiring story.”(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times; Industrial Light & Magic)
The role: J.D., the money-stealing, good-looking thief who strikes up a romantic relationship with Thelma (Geena Davis), and ends up educating her on his holdup tactics.
The final pick: Brad Pitt. Clooney read with Davis several times, only to be booted for Pitt. Clooney admitted he didn’t see the movie for years, then decided to rent it one night and realized that Pitt was perfect for the role.(Brad Barket / Getty Images for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; MGM)
The role: Scarlett O’Hara, a smart and charming woman searching high and low for love.
The final pick: Vivien Leigh. Davis turned down the role under the impression that Errol Flynn would play the part of Rhett Butler. (Clark Gable actually got the role.) Davis had refused to work with Flynn earlier, as their relationship off-screen was rocky. Davis even reportedly once slapped Flynn on the face.(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles Times Archives)
The role: James Bond, a British secret agent, with the code name 007.
The final pick: Sean Connery. Grant was 58 years old at the time of the audition and turned down the role because he was only interested in doing one Bond film.(Van Ness Films Inc.; Los Angeles Times Archives)
There is an unnerving moment deep inside the working-class drama “Out of the Furnace” when a primal scream cuts short an old argument between two brothers. Ripped from the emotional core of the younger, a burned-out Army soldier, Rodney Baze, played by Casey Affleck, it is frustration made manifest — a wordless rage against the death of the American dream.
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. Christian Bale as Russell creates one of those stoically decent men forged in the foundries of the Rust Belt, forgotten in a postindustrial age. But then “Out of the Furnace” is rich in talent used wisely. Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard help to create a sinewy portrait of a dying way of life.
Director Scott Cooper, whose 2009 critically acclaimed “Crazy Heart” examined the wasted days and nights of a washed-up country singer, has chosen to pick at another thread of social dysfunction in “Out of the Furnace.” The lean script, which he wrote with Brad Ingelsby, gives a face to the all-too-familiar story of economic decline and its effect on those already living on the margins.
Though the blue-collar Baze brothers are the visceral spine of this film, it begins and ends with a backwoods meth kingpin named Harlan Degroat whom Harrelson takes to terrifying extremes. The opening scene at a drive-in is so brutal, so senseless, it creates an undercurrent of tension and dread that never leaves the film. The narrative swings between Braddock, Pa., the struggling steel town where the Baze family lives, and New Jersey hill country, where life is defined by entrenched poverty, drugs, alcohol, bare-knuckle fighting and Degroat. That the brothers’ lives will intersect in harrowing ways with Degroat’s is only one of several tragic twists of fate the film has in store.
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 Barack Obama’s presidential nomination, along with its promise of change. Rodney is back from a tour in Iraq, racking up gambling debts, trying to pay them off with bare-knuckle fights put together by his bookie, John Petty (Dafoe). Russell spends his days working the steel mill blast furnaces. He’s fallen in love with Lena (Saldana) and dreams of a future and a family. With their dad bedridden, their uncle Red (Shepard) steps into the patriarch role.
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 “Winter’s Bone” composer Dickon Hinchliffe, with Eddie Vedder contributing a poignant new rendition of the Pearl Jam hit “Release.”
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
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