Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney (a multiple tour Iraq war vet played by Casey Affleck) have spent their entire lives in the northeast rust belt in one of those towns kept alive by the local steel mill and a lot of hard earned calloused hands. Russell is seemingly content with this, as he works in the same mill that his father (who is dying of cancer) did and makes due with what he has, and keeps going in spite of some personal hardships such as a freak car accident that results in him spending a few years in prison, and losing his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) to the local sheriff (Forest Whitaker). Rodney is one of those guys who feels like the world owes him something more though, and so refusing to work at the mill, he tries to find fulfillment in the underground fighting world where one can make a considerable sum on the side through gambling. Of course since his job in this movie is to be the proverbial prodigal son screw up type he gets himself into way more trouble than he anticipated and winds up paying a heavy price for it. Now his older brother Russell must decide if it is worth throwing away the tattered remnants of his hard laboring rustic life to set things right. So basically New Batman’s little brother gets himself in a world of trouble at the hands of a deranged redneck (Woody Harrelson) and the only guy that can do anything about it is none other than the Previous Batman. How do you like them apples Benny?
Willem Dafoe has a perfectly cast role as a small time bookie/bar owner. He’s one of those characters that is thoroughly corrupt, but has enough a conscious to not screw the good guys over. Christian Bale reminded me so much of a young Robert Duvall in this movie, as well as in American Hustle that I’m beginning to think it is an absolutely intentional impersonation he is doing. Don’t get me wrong, his acting here is nowhere near the level of Duvall, but he is a perfectly serviceable here in his part. Casey Affleck basically gets to act like a whiny bitch the entire movie, and for whatever effort is required there he succeeds affably enough. Zoe Saldana doesn’t really get much to do in her role aside from looking sad and concerned every now and then, although she and Christian Bale do have one tremendously touching scene together on top of a bridge that I will not spoil.
Forest Whitaker gets to play Forest Whitaker again, which is always a welcome sight for me anyway. Woody Harrelson continues his string of redneck psychopaths that he’s been playing since Natural Born Killers, all the way through No Country for Old Man, Seven Psychopaths, and even Zombieland now that I think of it (although there it was at least a more family friendly psychopath)… His character here is basically an evil hick with such a heavy garbled mountain accent that I had to hit the back button several times to understand what he was saying, such as the scene when he tells Willem Defoe, whose car he is standing by “Your left wheel is goin’ down” it comes out “Yer limp rear is glowin’ brown” …
There were several things I liked about this movie. Scott Cooper has a steady hand for directing although there was one shot in particular that made me groan and which as several other reviewers have pointed out is lifted straight out of ‘The Deer Hunter’ (a movie that this movie clearly and openly emulates) in which Christian Bale can’t bring himself to shoot Bambi’s mother or whatever. It at least plays a role in the story afterwards. As said I did like the way the movie flowed for the most part, especially the way he built in so much tension and atmosphere just by showing us two different sets of characters driving to their various destinations at one point. Then there’s the way Cooper lingers on everyday stuff like taking out the garbage or fixing up a broken window that just adds a really nice little element of credibility to everything. All of that was good solid stuff, and Christian Bale can play this kind of blue collar hard ass character in his sleep, which he more or less does. I’ve seen a lot of critics give harsh reviews to this movie and I really can’t understand why. I admit it is not the most original movie to come down the pike, but it never bored me through two repeated viewings, and on first watch it actually felt like it was a much better and deeper movie than it actually wound up being.
I almost forgot to mention there is some subtext to this movie. It is set in 2008 and features characters who I can’t imagine giving two shits about politics watching the election year speeches from guys like Ted Kennedy and so on. I thought that kind of stuff felt cheap and tacked on. This movie very much is trying to be a modern day parable in that sense, but I felt that, unlike “Killing Them Softly” a few years ago, which used similar themes and settings, that it didn’t drag the movie down too much, if at all. I know directors and writers have their “points to make” but please folks, don’t screw up otherwise good movies by trying to cram your politics into it, unless of course you have the script and the talent to pull it off.
I’m going to go ahead and give this one a solid recommendation. It’s got way more going for it than against it. This reminds me very much of those old gritty late 60s/early 70s movies that featured the likes of Charles Bronson or James Coburn. Tough men in tough towns during tough times. Russel Baze is the classic reserved quiet badass in the vein of Gary Cooper. I like that he was a decent man who did not seek out violence, but simply responded to it when it came to him. I like that this movie didn’t turn into your standard revenge movie shoot em’ up (not there’s anything wrong with that in its place)that throws the laws of physics out the window. This is simply a very grounded movie that delivers on all of the levels I expected it to.
Out of the Furnace gets a four out of five: GREAT.