Saturday, December 7, 2013

Out of the Furnace into Hell

Masterfully and vividly, Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace renders two sordid worlds: a depressed Pennsylvania steel mill town and the seedy hillbilly locales of the New Jersey Appalachians. Shots of Braddock, the mill town, will remind you of the memorable depiction of the steel mill town in The Deer Hunter; the plot will remind you of Cimino's film as well. A roadside hangout and a rotting crack house are memorably portrayed in the New Jersey scenes. Thus, the film is visually gripping from beginning to end – scene after scene.

In addition, the film provides a feast of talented, naturalistic acting by Woody Harrelson, Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Shephard. The acting is tremendous. Bale portrays Russell's development throughout the story very well, and I am always riveted by Casey Affleck's acting. Love the scene in which Russell meets the New Jersey boss (Harrelson) and they stand, faces inches apart, Harrelson sucking on a lollipop. "I'm supposed to think he's a badass because he sucks on a lollipop?" I love Casey's understated delivery and his uneasy smirks or half-laughs.

Within a running length of 116 minutes, the film is epic – following Russell Baze in his attempts to save his brother, Rodney, (Affleck), traumatized by his experiences in Iraq, from compulsive gambling that leads him into the dangerous world of bare-knuckles boxing – a competition ruled here by a mean son of a bitch from New Jersey (Harrelson), whose conscienceless brutality is established in the film’s outrageously shocking opening scene. The story takes Russell to prison and back to Braddock where he devotes himself to saving his brother, which leads him into the hellish den of New Jersey degenerates that spell Rodney’s downfall.

I was gripped by visuals and performances throughout two thirds of this film. Then, when things get inextricably hopeless for Russell, the plot doesn’t really know where to go – or it knows where to go and doesn’t go there expeditiously enough. Too bad. For the majority of its length, this is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. But it takes you on an epic journey into a present-day hell only to leave you hanging in an unsatisfying limbo.


Steve's Blog said...

I am pleased to see how much you seemed to like this film as I have read too many pieces calling it too depressing for its own good. Maybe it's that folks want warm and fuzzy for Christmas rather than something that takes one "into Hell" as it were. I am especially curious after reading your comparison in terms of mood and setting to The Deer Hunter. I doubt this film has that one's epic scope, but it sounds like it may have its penchant for a thoughtfully meandering pace. I like films like that. As I mentioned before, one of my all-time favorite films, The Indian Runner, seems to bear a striking resemblance to this film. And it's another that slowly boils, choosing to take time to develop characters and setting in favor of plot contrivance and action.

Hokahey said...

Thanks, Steve. Actually, this movie is quite epic. I've read negative reviews, but one reviewer in EW placed it on his/her top 10 films of 2013 list. What films would be on your top ten list?

Steve's Blog said...

Top ten list of 2013? That's a tough one considering the fcat that I will not have seen the cream of the crop until well into January/February from here. Nevertheless, I will say that the following films would be in the top of what I have seen thus far:
Mama, Dallas Buyer's Club, Elysium, All is Lost, Spring Breakers, Warm Bodies, Place Beyond the Pines, Captain Philips, The Way, Way Back, and Before Midnight--all in no particular order. I also excluded documentaries and foreign films for now.

I feel that Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Out of the Furnace, Wolf of Wall Street, and American Hustle may make their way in this list.

I look forward to your end of year top ten. I also look forward to your thoughts on August, Osage County after having taught it.

Hokahey said...

I shall wait till January 1 to reveal my top-ten list - but on my "first draft" I also have Mama, Spring Breakers, All Is Lost, The Place Beyond the Pines, and perhaps Before Midnight. Looking forward to American Hustle and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Thanks for the comments. Miss you!