Continuously going back to situations that you intimately know often times can lead to emotionally intense and gripping situations. That is not only the case for the main characters, who are struggling to reinvent their identities in their community, in the new crime drama thriller, ‘Out of the Furnace,’ but also for writer-director Scott Cooper. After releasing his 2009 critically acclaimed, Academy Award-winning musical drama directorial debut, ‘Crazy Heart,’ the filmmaker once again chronicled how troubled, genuine people realistically take responsibility for their actions in his new film, which opens in Long Island theaters on Friday.
‘Out of the Furnace’ follows Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), who were born and raised in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt hamlet were generations of families have made their living working at the steel mills. While Russell followed their father into the mills, Rodney took the only other option available to young men in the area-he enlisted in the Army, hoping to achieve a better life outside of Braddock.
But after four brutal tours of duty in Iraq, the emotionally and physically exhausted Rodney returns to his recession-weary hometown, and discouragingly finds that he now how fewer job opportunities than before he left. After an accident leads Russell to serve a prison sentence, his debt-ridden young brother is left to make ends meet on his own. Rodney turns to the only thing he knows-trying to make money competing as a bare-knuckle boxer. He persuades local gambler John Petty (Willem Dafoe), who also sets up fights, to enter him into a competition in the notorious New Jersey Ramapo Mountains.
The New Jersey fights are led by ruthless sociopath Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), who cares more about making money and selling drugs than the fighters. When Rodney suddenly disappears shortly after entering the fight, the newly released Russell makes it his mission to find his brother, with the help of their uncle, Gerald ‘Red’ Baze (Sam Shepard). Despite the merciless reputation of Harlan’s crime ring, as well as the warnings of Russell’s ex-girlfriend, Lena Taylor (Zoe Saldana), to allow Chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker) and the police handle the case, Russell and Gerald will stop at nothing to find Rodney on their own terms.
With his second directorial feature film, Cooper intensely captured the quiet drama that emotionally drives working-class families who are living and working on the margins of society. The filmmaker, who has always appreciated the dedication of the men working the dangerous jobs at the steel mills, captivatingly chronicled the devastating circumstances the men have always contended with, through the sympathetic viewpoint of Russell and his family.
As both a co-writer and director of ‘Out of the Furnace,’ Cooper, who’s a former actor, compassionately showcased how the way of life Russell and Rodney have always known is disappearing. The filmmaker proved how he deeply understands human condition, and the strong emotions that motivate people to take different paths in life. The Baze brothers have always been loyal to each other, even when their lives have taken completely different directions; Russell has always atoned for his actions and knows when to take responsibilities for his faults, and even embraces the situations when he has to take care of his younger brother.
Bale was alluringly and smartly cast as the quiet, contained Russell, the troubled but reputable protagonist who’s continuously searching for ways to better his life. The Academy Award-winning actor brilliantly captured the character’s determination to overcome the hardships his life continuously presents to him, whether saving Rodney from the cruel grips of Harlan, or accepting the fact that Lena moved on with her life while he was in jail. While Russell struggles to atone for the wrongs he has committed in his life, Bale memorably infused the character with a gripping strength and determination, which allows the town of Braddock to look at him as a moral leader.
Affleck was also brilliantly cast, as the emotionally and financially struggling younger Baze brother. The Oscar-nominated actor authentically embraced the realistic story about the mysteries and drama surrounding Rodney’s relationships, during a difficult time when he was also trying to redefine his identity in the community and the job market. Affleck effortlessly showcased that just like many other soldiers, Rodney is struggling to start his life over after returning home from war, but doesn’t know how to assimilate after giving up his responsibilities and power from the Army.
Not knowing how to redefine his life after giving up his obligations to the military, Rodney understandably wants to channel his anger and depression into fighting, an area he has excelled in. Affleck, who has never been a fighter, proved his dedication to the role by taking over challenging physical demands, and intensely training with the film’s fight coordinator, Ben Bray. After the two intensely worked on choreography and stunt work for a month before filming began, Affleck powerfully infused his training into the pent-up rage Rodney has been carrying around since his return from Iraq.
Besides crafting a strong, emotional story that’s lead by powerful, intense performances, Cooper also proved he could resourcefully create an authenticity for ‘Out of the Furnace’ by shooting on location in the town of Braddock. With the help of production designer Therese DePrez, the Pennsylvania mill town offers an authentic atmosphere for the film. The locations truly show the difficulties that families like the Bazes constantly struggle with. For example, Russell proved his dedicated work ethic in the Carrie Furnace, which captivatingly features refractory bricks and older machinery, proving the town has struggled to keep up with modern times. Combined with the town’s battered, smoke-stained houses that Russell and the rest of the residents live in, the crime thriller perfectly captured the realism and authenticity of the struggles the entire town continuously face.
‘Out of the Furnace’ is an intense, endearing and emotional crime drama thriller that realistically showcase the challenges working-class families, such as the Bazes, who are living and working on the margins of society, continuously contend with. Cooper once again proved he deeply understands human psyche and the emotions that motivate people to question which course of action they should take in life. Combined with the authentic, captivating performances by the cast, notably Bale and Affleck, as well as the realistic production design and authenticity of the locations the filmmaker chose to use throughout the real town of Braddock, the film tells an overall strong, powerful story.