Monday, February 24, 2014

Out of the Furnace, onto the screen

I got my finger on the trigger
But I don't know who to trust

Out of the Furnace is the cinematic equivalent of a Bruce Springsteen song: industrial, gritty, full of character and beautiful; and American through and through. It’s not like one of the Boss's big stadium anthems he’s best known for though. Unlike Born in the USA or Thunder Road, Out of the Furnace won’t blow you away with its energy. I would compare it, in terms of tone and content, to Devils and Dust, a song about a soldier in the Iraq war.

When I look into your eyes
There's just devils and dust

The fact the Scott Cooper’s second feature arouses comparisons to music is not surprising. His debut Crazy Heart about an alcoholic country singer bagged Jeff Bridges a well-deserved Oscar. Cooper obviously has a good ear for music, which is also evident here. Out of the Furnace opens with Release by Pearl Jam and Dickon Hinchliffe’s excellent score is omnipresent.

We're a long, long way from home, Bobbie
Home's a long, long way from us

Furnace marks a departure from (melo-)drama into thriller territory for Cooper. Russell (Christian Bale) lives a simple life: he works at the steel mill and lives with his beautiful girlfriend (ZoĆ« Saldana). His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) complicates things. He is the soldier from Devils and Dust. Since returning from Iraq, he can’t stay out of trouble. He gambles, becomes a bare-knuckle boxer and mixes with the wrong people and has to rely on Russell to get him out of tight spots.

I feel a dirty wind blowing
Devils and dust

At its heart, Out of the Furnace is a film about male bonding and post-traumatic stress. Female characters are very much side-lined. The central question is: how for would you go for someone you love who is beyond salvation? This idea is by no means ground-breaking or original and has been done in a similar fashion many times (particularly The Deer Hunter), but it is very well executed. The film (it was shot on 35mm) looks suitably dirty and dark; however there are moments of immense beauty. Scott Cooper also achieves a real sense for the locations: the steel mill, the degenerate workers’ houses, the shady bars.

I got God on my side
And I'm just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love

The cast is as follows: Bale, Affleck, Saldana, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard. Listing the names of these actors is almost enough to make the point that the performances are great. No one disappoints or is miscast here.

Fear's a powerful thing, baby
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust

Out of the Furnace does not reinvent the wheel but it is a solid thriller which reinforces Scott Cooper as one of the most interesting young directors in Hollywood. It was released in the US and the UK in the middle of awards season. This was a mistake, because it can’t quite compete with the big contenders. This is one to look out for on DVD or on demand.


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