Scott Cooper’s methodically bleak, reflectively dense “revenge” tale has quite a bit going on in it. First of all, it is quite unlike most revenge stories you’ve ever seen, where the act that triggers the reactive revenge happens nearly three-quarters of the way through the film, instead in the opening act. The Maze brothers, Russell (Bale) and his younger brother Rodney (Affleck) live a hard-scrabble life in the country’s downtrodden Rust Belt. Russell works in the local mill, barely getting by on what he earns (usually working back-breaking double shifts), while Rodney zombie-walks his way through four tours of duty in Afghanistan, mostly because he simply can’t see his way to killing himself working at the mill. Meanwhile the disaffected Rodney is clearly building up to a serious case of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), while is older brother is sleep-walking his way through his own life attempting to care for their ailing father (Bingo O'Malley) who is slowly dying in front of them.
Rodney, to break up the dullness and monotony of his between tours stints at home gambles away what little money he has betting on the ponies, and engaging in bare-knuckle brawling. Unfortunately, he is so zoned out he can’t quite keep it in his head that he is supposed to throw some of the fights into which he has been entered by the local promoter, bar owner, and drug distributor John Petty (Dafoe), which — naturally enough — causes him some troubles with an “inbred New Jersey” cracker named Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson), to whom Petty owes a great deal of money. Rodney not only just can’t seem to get it together, but doesn’t seem to quite comprehend how deep he is in all of it, and pressures Petty to set him up in a fight with one of DeGroat’s fighters, because “That’s where the big money is.” Petty finally relents, which is where things finally go off the rails.
Meanwhile, a cruel twist of fate lands Russell in prison after an unfortunate momentary lapse in judgment in an otherwise conscientious life, which winds up being a mistake that will almost cost him everything. Once released, Russell must choose between maintaining his own freedom, or risk it all in order to seek justice for his brother. Each of the film’s main actors delivers compelling top-notch performances as they emote their way through this powerful film. While watching it, viewers can’t but help to reevaluate their own lives, comparing how they currently exist in the world as compared to the lives lived out by these people, who live far from the modern conveniences of big, populated cities, and spend the entirety of their lives eking out meager existences in the country’s “heartland.” Yeah, personally, after seeing this film we personally don’t feel do downbeat about our own life.
Not so much difficult to watch, but weighty in both its presentation and in the viewing of it, the film gives viewers much to ponder, and reflect upon, including family, life, and the nature of the way things occur.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.