Sunday 29 December 2013

OUT OF THE FURNACE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Neo-Noir enshrouds Rust Belt's Braddock, Penn.

Out of the Furnace (2013) ***1/2
Dir. Scott Cooper

Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson,
Willem Dafoe, Sam Shepard, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker

Review By Greg Klymkiw

When a movie opens with Woody Harrelson at a drive-in theatre forcibly shoving a wiener down his date's throat and then, after smashing her face repeatedly against the dashboard he barrels out of the vehicle to savagely beat a man who tries to come to the woman's rescue, you know beyond a shadow of any doubt where you are.


It has another name in America - it's the Rust Belt, the grey, dirty and dreary cities and towns of Pennsylvania that belch endless clouds of poison smoke into the sky from the steel factories providing the lion's share of employment to the dazed citizenry unlucky enough to live there. Save for working in the mills that slowly kill you and/or signing up for military duty in the Middle East, the only other real employment is in the dark underworld that permeates the tattered fabric of this septic tank of despair.

There are plenty of bars and off-track betting parlours to numb the pain of living.

And there's violence. Plenty of it.

Director Scott (Crazy Heart) Cooper's fine, muted crime drama from a screenplay he adapted from an original script by Brad Ingelsby takes us through familiar territory, but it does so in ways wherein the eruptions of extreme cruelty come when you least expect them. The tropes of the genre are employed, but you never quite know how they'll manifest themselves and this might be one of the picture's greatest strengths. An atmosphere of hopelessness pervades the world of the film and even when Russell, a mill worker (deftly underplayed by Christian Bale) tries to make a good life for himself, events conspire to keep dashing his simple, reasonable hopes for something resembling a future. His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is a desperately shell-shocked soldier with three horrific tours of duty in Iraq (and a fourth pending). His solace is in gambling and his future in underground bare-knuckle boxing.

Amidst the empty storefronts of Braddock, Pennsylvania and in the dank, empty home where the brothers' Dad dies a painful death from the effects of working the mill his whole life, Russell and Rodney's lives will soon cross paths to be inextricably linked with the psychopathic thug Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson) and the tough, but strangely amiable bar-owner (and bookie) John Petty (Willem Dafoe). To say things get grim is an understatement. Out of the Furnace is a heartbreaking portrait of an America on the verge of total collapse. Ironically, it's set on the eve of Barack Obama's victorious ascension to the presidency in 2008, but any shred of hope is dashed by the reality of a country that's been battered by a genuinely villainous corporate New World Order that is intent upon driving an even bigger wedge between rich and poor. What's left is an ever-increasing class of the working poor and the insidious element of low-level thuggery and crime.

The movie is finally unrelenting in painting a portrait of a grimy world not unlike the real Old West, where senseless acts of violence can be met with vengeance, but nothing about the retribution is sweet.

Director Cooper delivers a picture that'll be hard for audiences to face, but the end result will haunt them long after the lights comes up and strangely, they'll feel richer for having seen this journey rather than the myriad of empty extravaganzas littering the movie screens. Though the movie is saddled with an unfortunate love-interest and subplot involving Zoe Saldana, it survives this ho-hum intrusion upon a world that otherwise feels intrinsically male - where the traditional roles applied to men continue to permeate a savage, desperate existence.

"Out of the Furnace" is in a surprisingly wider release (via Relativity Media/VVS Films) than one would expect for a film of uncompromising darkness. Given how gorgeously shot on actual 35mm film stock it is by ace cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, it is definitely worth seeing on a big screen.