Does anything pleasant ever happen in rural Pennsylvania?
Russell and Rodney Blaze (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) have been through some tough times as it is, and in the year 2008, they only seem to be getting wore. Russell still continues his daily-job working at the local mill, where Rodeny is sort of a wild card of sorts when it comes to his own forms of payment. He’s a vet who may be looking at more service in the future, but in another way to get money, he gambles, he bets on horse races and he does a lot of underground fighting. One night, however, Rodney doesn’t come back after he and his manager of sorts (Willem Dafoe) don’t return from a fight happened all the way in New Jersey, and was ran by the menacing, utterly nasty Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). When Russell realizes that the police aren’t able to take this case any further, he decides to take the law into his own hands, even if that does mean risking his life and eventual freedom for doing so. However, it’s all in the name of his little bro, so it’s worth it, right?
In case you haven’t been able to tell yet by the two very obvious pieces of info I’ve given you about this story, let me just reiterate them for you: It’s rural Pennsylvania, and it takes place in 2008. Why? Well, because people have to brood, have something to be sad about and basically be working their rumps off just to get a nickel and say, “Oh, gee whiz barkeep! Tough world we have here, but an even tougher economy!” And I’m not firmly against movies that like to stress the problems with the lower-class and today’s current economy, but it has to be done in the right way, that’s not just thought-provoking, but feels realistic as well. Even if it is coming from a major studio, and filled to the brim with attractive, A-listers.
Writer/director Scott Cooper, despite his best intentions, was not able to convey this movie’s message in the right way, however, he still has something to make-up for it, and that’s a pretty gritty, raw and brutal story of people who just do whatever they can to make it by in this world, even if that does mean cracking a bit of skulls along the way. I get that some may view this story as “tired”, “conventional” and “nothing new”, and to that, I’d have to agree. The film is, by no means at all, breaking down barriers that haven’t already been broken down and put back up before; instead, it’s just telling a small, tight crime story to the best of its ability, while not getting everything right along the way.
Rather than just making this flick a thinking-piece on the people who were there and effected when the Stock Market crashed those some odd years ago, like Killing Them Softly did and did somewhat well, the movie never feels like it’s meaning to go deep enough so that they don’t hide away from more of the grittier aspects like the underground fighting rings, or the drug-dens, or the grisly killings. Makes sense since this movie’s got to appeal and please to somebody out there in the large sheet of canvas we call Earth, but it takes away from what could have been a more powerful story, that took its punches, but never lost its point it set-out to make. Which is why when Cooper decides to back-pedal a bit in the end, it felt like a cheap move on his part, especially since he laid down so much groundwork for this story to continue to develop more and more as it went on along.
However though, I have to give Cooper some credit for at least entertaining me and giving me a solid crime-thriller, that is all about its tension, and less about the nonsensical blood, gore and murders. There are quite a few moments of bloody and brutal violence that occur, but they aren’t done so in a way that feels gratuitous or in a manipulative manner in order for Cooper to show you how unrelenting and bleak this world is, it just feels like how it should feel: Quick, mean, in-your-face and effective when it wants to be. It isn’t that Cooper wants to give us a violent tale of revenge so that we go out there in the world and start taking down random people left and right, it’s more that he just wants to give us a story that goes deeper than just plain-old revenge, and hits the core of our families.
Okay, it definitely comes off a lot hokier than I may make it sound but do believe me: There is some emotion to be had here. It just won’t leap out at you and grab you by the neck so that you feel its tears. It’s just a sad movie that you can choose to feel sad with, or sad for. Either way, you’re going to feel sad.
And one way you may feel sad for this movie is the way that it assembles this huge cast, and how some of them feel wasted, and others don’t. In my eyes, nobody felt wasted, but that’s just me. I’m a lover, and I never find anything bad to say about anyone…
Anyway, leading this cast of beautiful, Hollywood celebrities is Christian Bale who, once again, carries a movie on his shoulders without ever showing signs of stumbling and slightly losing it, or falling and dropping it all for good. His character of Russell isn’t the best character he’s played in the past decade or so, but Bale gives him more complexity to where you can understand why the guy feels like he needs to change his brother’s life around, even if that does mean causing some heated dinner-discussions. You can tell that there’s always this sense of rage and bitterness lingering behind Bale’s eyes, but he never fully lets it out in a sea of angry yelling; he sort of just continues on with this performance, with this character and with this story, trying his hardest not to let-go of us and lose us for the rest of the flick. Needless to say, he doesn’t and he keeps this character, as well as this movie, very interesting, even when it seems to not be talking about much at all.
Casey Affleck also does a pretty solid job as Bale’s brother, Rodney (weird, right?), giving us the type of dude you’d actually understand and believe as the loose nut in the batch. He’s not all that there in the head, doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, thinks more with his head than his heart and always finds himself looking down the pipeline of something terrible and awful to happen to him, or to the ones he loves. So basically, he’s a classic fuck-up, in every sense of the word, however, he’s a sympathetic one that you feel bad for because he knows he could do so much better with his life, he just doesn’t have much motivation to do so or doesn’t even want to, despite it being the best thing for him and the ones he loves. Affleck has a few scenes where he lets loose of his emotions in the ways that Bale has been known to do in the past (mainly behind-the-scenes) and he does pretty well with each and every one of them, while still laying down the groundwork for an arrogant character, that we’re definitely supposed to reach out to and care for, even at his dumbest moments. And he definitely has plenty of them.
Woody Harrelson is the one big baddie in this whole sea of ’em, playing Harlan DeGroat, and god, he’s good. With all of the lovable, kind and happily-spirited roles he’s portrayed in the past, it’s hard to remember how damn menacing a figure Woody can be when he’s given the chance to be that way, and he’s pretty damn good at it too. He seems like the type of guy that wouldn’t have an ounce of kindness to be found anywhere in his heart, and it works better for this character, rather than working against him as an obvious cliché. Sure, we get that he’s a bastard that doesn’t like anybody he crosses (he practically even tells us early on), but he never feels like one that you couldn’t walk into if you weren’t watching where you were in the backwaters of New Jersey. He’s the type of disgusting human being we all love to poke jokes at for being inbred mother-humpers, yet, would never want to be in a face-to-face fight with. Never, ever in a million years.
Everybody else who aren’t the main characters of this story, still do pretty well even if its fairly obvious they’re just here to collect a paycheck, do their work and be gone. Willem Dafoe is a sleazy guy whom manages poor ol’ Rodney, who owes just as much money as he does, despite being more “professional” about it; Zoe Saldana has a great couple of scenes as Russell’s ex that he so desperately wants back, but just can’t have because of one big problem that gives us one of the best scenes of the whole movie that doesn’t concern shooting, killing or any acts of violence, if you can actually believe that; Forest Whitaker’s character is thrown into the weird position where he’s banging Russell’s ex, and yet, at the same time, being that he’s the cop called onto the scene, has to do his jobs, strictly by-the-books without judgment clouding his mind and he pulls it off well; and Sam Shepard gives us another role where he plays the older, wiser and more silenced member of the family, but is so good at it, I don’t even have time to complain about it. I’ll just let it be, baby.
Consensus: While Scott Cooper would definitely love if Out of the Furnace was more than just gritty, raw and down-to-Earth crime-drama, he still delivers a tense, revenge-soaked story that never lets us go, even in its messiest moments.
7 / 10 = Rental!!