Fire and Ice: Scott Cooper Delivers on Promise

Cityview | December 10, 2013
Scott Cooper’s American character study-thriller bursts at the seams. After his directorial debut with “Crazy Heart,” director/co-screenwriter Cooper returns from his Oscar win with a sophomore movie that fulfills his promise as a filmmaker of vision and grit. While it doesn’t carry “Crazy Heart’s” satisfying range of emotional texture and ironic wit, it’s a solid effort that bodes well for Cooper’s growth as a filmmaker with soul.

The industrial look of “Out of the Furnace” is exquisitely grungy. Here is a look at the real dark and lonely underbelly of America you can’t read about in USA Today, or see on Fox News. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (the man responsible for the iconic look of unforgettable movies such as “Babel,” “The Grey” and “Warrior”) leaves his indelible mark of naturalism to match the characters and the story.

Set in Braddock, Pennsylvania, the lean narrative resonates with “The Deer Hunter” without needing to visit upon the ravages of America’s sundry wars overseas; Americans are already plenty ravaged enough at home. That’s the message of the movie. Cooper doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Too much war and too many lies have pushed too many people out of their minds.

The nation’s downturned economy is a pervasive quicksand that drains color and life out of everything, especially in the town of Braddock, where Christian Bale’s Russell Baze works at its soon-to-be-closed Carrie Furnace Complex. Russell’s off-the-rails brother Rodney is an Iraq war vet who has done too many tours of duty. Some people have read too many books, or seen too many movies. Rodney has seen too much mindless killing, and been a part of it too. He’s damaged goods and he knows it.

If anyone thought Ben Affleck fell off the planet after “The Killer Inside Me,” this exceptional actor is back with a vengeance. Affleck’s immersion in the role of a universal modern-day American soldier with a permanent chip on his shoulder is thoroughly compelling. Rodney finds distraction in overleveraging his social condition — namely that of an unemployable (broke) war vet — with a taste for stupid gambling. He wants to lose. Rodney gravitates toward self-destruction. The only money Rodney makes comes from fighting in an illegal fight club run by a local bar owner played by Willem Dafoe. Still, Rodney is a military badass who hasn’t yet learned how to take a fall. Fear isn’t part of Rodney’s psyche. He’s far too numb for such a trivial emotion.

You would be hard pressed to find three finer performances than those delivered by Affleck, Bale, and Woody Harrelson (playing an inbred Appalachian brute with a heart of darkness).

“Out of the Furnace” is a straightforward revenge thriller with plenty of atmosphere, character development, and plot twists to make the experience matter. It’s a movie that raises questions without trying too hard. What comes out of the furnace, and where does it go next?

Rated R. 106 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)


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