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Movie Review: Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace movie poster

This is one of those great movies to which you already know the ending. It’s not predictable. It might be accused of being formulaic. It’s a good formula though. We like it. It tells you that the good guys win after they’ve been beaten, badly, and get back up. It is stacked with solid acting, great actors, characters you just want to believe in and hope they win, so you watch it in case it doesn’t turn out the way you absolutely know it’s going to.

A couple of otherwise decent brothers from northern Pennsylvania – one a blue-collar mill worker , the other a soldier on his way to the Middle East – get seriously entangled in what passes for racketeering in this part of the world. It’s not the olive oil slick version of organized crime. It’s cut offs, illicit drug laboratories, and inferred progeny of incest. A small-time bookie and loan shark operating out of his hole in the wall dive bar holds debt over the younger brother – Rodney Baze –  played by Casey Affleck. The older brother -Russell Baze – who insinuates that he continually gets his younger brother out of as much dangerous he puts himself in, is played by Christian Bale. You know how good Christian Bale is already. Exchanging his English accent for the almost Midwest style of middle Pennsylvania is only the beginning. Quite frankly I haven’t heard Christian Bale uses native accent in much, maybe not since Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. The Prestige may not count, since he affected that one as well.

Willem Defoe is the local loan shark and bookie, John Petty, making most of his money on rigged bare-knuckle fights between one broke mill worker and another. The movie opens introducing us to a real son of a bitch named Harlan – that’s always a son of a bitch name-played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is awesome. I even forgive him for the Kurt Cobain meets Sling Blade character he played in The Hunger Games.Woody-Harrelson-and-Christian-Bale-in-Out-of-the-Furnace-2013-Movie-IMage1-650x488

There’s not a lot of useless exposition in the beginning of the movie. There is some building of hard-scrabbled character. We automatically care about the characters because they’re honest and they’re written very well. Their struggles seem like struggles. They don’t have to turn to the camera and explain them. They’re evident and they’re authentic. The father of the brothers is dying. Their uncle, the dying man’s little brother, “Red” Baze – played by the stalwart Sam Shepard sits vigil at his hospital bedside, only the hospital bed is in the living room. We know that won’t end well, the film is not trying to trick us there. So we already have empathy. There’s not a lot of political intrigue or argument when we find out that Casey Affleck’s character Rodney, comes home shell shocked.His tattoos are exaggerated a bit, but no more hyperbolic than the character itself.

Within the first 15 minutes Russell is locked up for DUI manslaughter. So we don’t have to wait for bad things to happen to him. We already believe he’s a good guy, visiting his dad every morning before he goes to work, having that job to begin with an looking after his little brother. We find out that he has a love interest who loves him dearly, played by Zoe Saldana. She doesn’t wait for Russell to return, to her own heart breaking chagrin. We learn upon their new meeting, outside of prison, that Lena is pregnant, with the sheriff’s baby. One of my all time favorites  Forest Whitaker plays the small-town sheriff, Wesley Barnes.

Wesley Barnes notices Russel’s return and leaves it at that. This shows he is a trusting and trust-worthy man. He and Lena even come for dinner to help console the remaining Bazes. The topic of love and Lena comes up when Russel questions Wesleys efforts in apprehending Harlan. Wesley deflects only once, accusing Russell of leaving Lena alone and unprotected while he did his bid. He later defends his position in the Baze home by saying that their relationship may not be fiery, bt it’s a good thing. That’s good enough, for now, for Russell. Barne’s forthrightness acts as a foil when Russel goes on a vigilante mission, avenging Rodney’s eventual murder at the hands of Harrelson’s Harlan. No spoiler alert needed, the movie really builds up to it. What you don’t know is when. He gets beaten so badly, so many times, it could happen at least three times in the film. Barnes’ nobility extends across state-lines and is respected and reflected in a NJ officer extending Red and Russel an opportunity to walk away and live to fight another day, “Wink, Wink.”

The characters are real, they are extreme but necessarily so, or they wont stand out against the backdrop of hard violence, hardcore rural decay and rust and hard-won justice. Shirtless fights occur in rings made of onlookers is dilapidated industrial warehouses and abandoned plants. Blood and sweat replaced oil and steam, suggesting that fights are the real job market and product. The cast is solid, the characters are a product of that, excusing any revenge plot predictability one may find. There is a notable comparison made to Russel’s inability to pull a trigger on a whitetail buck, and the ease he finds in doing so later on.