Out Of The Furnace - Blu-ray Review

'a tender portrayal of a man needlessly driven to the edge; a man trying to survive in a crumbling moral and fiscal economy'

Promotional stills for Out Of The Furnace prominently showing Christian Bale holding a large firearm do the film a disservice. This is a much more interesting examination of contemporary small town America than those images suggest. Yes, Scott Cooper's film, co-penned with Brad Ingelsby, does feature prominent violence and 'red neck' gangsterism, but this is also a tender portrayal of a man needlessly driven to the edge; a man trying to survive in a crumbling moral and fiscal economy.

That man is Russell Baze (Bale), employed by the local steelworks, which is threatened with closure, attempting to shepherd a wayward war-veteran younger brother (Casey Affleck) and struggling to come to terms with a now defunct relationship after a spell in prison. Cooper, who returns with his second feature after the Oscar-winning Crazy Heart, wisely avoids placing 'blame' on any of those elements. This is not a film about how the evils of America's foreign conflicts have impacted its citizens, nor is it a film about how cheap foreign imports (Baze's works are threatened by closure due to Chinese competition) are impinging on the every day ability to make money. Rather, it is a melange of all of those things, a picture of what is possible (or not) for the Russell Baze's of America today.

It is perhaps unsurprising that Cooper concludes the opportunities are few and fraught with danger. Baze's route to jail can be directly traced back along a line that involves hard work, which gets him the cash to pay polite small town gangster John Petty (Willem Dafoe, who is brilliant), which leads to him having one drink too many, which leads to imprisonment. Even when Baze's chips are up, they are down.

The personal plays a part in the film but Cooper is at liberty to suggest that this is not a situation made due to individual madness but rather concocted out of the above chains of institutionally ingrained mistakes. Though Baze splits early on with Lena (Zoe Saldana), his relationship with her and Wesley (Forest Whitaker) remains relatively warm. Petty may be a gangster but he generally reacts amiably and even fatherly to most events. Sam Shepard barely gets above a whisper as Baze's uncle and actually, in truth, makes little plot impact. The only real wildcard, predictably, is Woody Harrelson, needed for plot movement but certainly not solely or truly to blame for many of the film's occurrences.

Instead, it feels as though America, in whole or part, is in the crosshairs, and Cooper's careful script pulls us round into new dark corners and old violences. It is quietly played stuff but all the better for it in many ways. A thrilling offering for a second film. Cooper's next trick? Tease a good performance out of Johnny Depp in Black Mass, for the first time in a good long while.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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