The Post-traumatic American Dream. Once again advertisements for movies are doing a disservice, if not indeed, the movie goer. The one I saw for director Scott Cooper’s (who directed Oscar winning ‘Crazy Heart’ in 2009) new work ‘Out Of The Furnace’ bore little resemblance for the overtly brooding aggressive movie that I had seen. The trailer presented as a fast paced, almost action type film. It’s anything but. This is a slow heavy burner of a movie, and all the better for it.
This is also the movie that Christian Bale (Russell Baze) should be getting the Oscar nomination for. Supporting him in quite a stellar cast is Casey Affleck playing Rodney Baze Jr., the younger brother recently returned from a military tour in Iraq. Rodney has been trained to fight, to kill, but he’s not trained to fight an downtrodden economic recession. Bale on the other hand is the foundation, the grafter, the supporter, the everyman who is effectively a surrogate father as their own father lays poorly from illness, as a result of working in the local factory for years. As such, Bale is the last supporting truss of this family.
Giving reason, light, hope and focus to Bale is his girlfriend Lena Taylor (Zoe Saldana). With her around there will always be hope. But that is a dream, and dreams are the first thing to perish when the very world around you is out sourced. In a cruel twist of faith, Bale goes to prison for causing a traffic accident where a child dies. True to his necessarily stoic nature, Bale serves his time, whereupon he looses his light in Lena who has also moved on out of necessity and security, and is now hooked up with Chief Wesly Barnes (Forest Whitaker).
The scenes with Bale/Saldana really are fantastic. You wholly believe in their relationship, all it’s hopes, and certainly all that is lost when they meet again. It’s the humbled humanity in everything Bale does in these scenes, as he searches for a glimmer of light of hope to rekindle, to fix things, to rebuild on. But that’s another movie, not this one.
Rodney on the other hand does what he is trained to do, he fights, in illegal bare-knuckle bouts. He is trained for another world entirely, brutality is his reason. The path he’s marching down with local small time crook/bar owner John Petty (Willem Dafoe) gets darker and darker, eventually leading to the natural feral outcome of a deposed society in the guise of Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). Whereas Russell has violence thrown into his world, Rodney seeks it out.
As mentioned, this is a heavy movie, if you’re allowing it all to absorb it (and you should). The interactions between some of the cast, particularly Bale, Affleck, Saldana, Dafoe and Harrelson are fantastic. Deeply earthed, real people. That is the success of the movie. But there are issues also in that you can see what’s coming from a very long way off, very early. There aren’t really any massive surprises, but again that’s not a criticism. It’s effectively an essay on the demise of the American Dream/Manhood, and that nations seemingly only solution to that being aggression, fighting, death. Maybe not the sort of work you may feel the desire to seek out, but it’s that very brushing away of such realities that enable the demise to continue.
Out Of The Furnace is out now