Honestly, I haven’t been able to shake the images from Scott Cooper’s new film, “Out of the Furnace”, from my head since last Friday. Is it my need for resolution in the story and life of Rodney and Russell Baze? Or perhaps it’s Eddie Vedder’s fault for letting Cooper use his powerful song, “Release”, from Pearl Jam’s 1992 album, “Ten”.
“Out of the Furnace” is a story of the importance of family, the deepness of loyalty, and enactment of revenge. The trailer unfortunately gives away much of our storyline. Yes, Casey Affleck plays the headstrong war veteran, Rodney Baze, who falls into debt with some bad dudes. His brother, Russell, played by the phenomenal Christian Bale, realizes Rodney is missing, and stops at nothing to find him. The two live in an old rural, industrial town, apparently torn asunder by failed campaign promises of the man in the Oval Office. In one scene, Russell sips alcohol in a bar. Cooper leaves the camera on a nearby TV screen, while some politician endorses Barack Obama. It feels strangely familiar to those who have seen “Killing them Softly”, a dismal failure from Andrew Dominik of last year. Luckily, “Out of the Furnace” doesn’t spend too much time talking about the ramifications of politics, and instead shows us the results. It seems more effective.
The film opens with every intention of showing us just how bad Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is. I won’t spoil much, but I was left wondering why anyone would consider a drive-in date with someone so spontaneously violent. At any rate, Harrelson symbolizes the stereotype of dangerous hillbillies who, as Chief Barnes (Forest Whitaker) warns, “have their own brand of justice.” It’s a bit scary, and if you grew up in a smaller town—like I did—you probably recognize the stereotype isn’t stretched too far.
Perhaps it is the setting of the Baze family’s life that caused this movie to feel so close to home. The tiny town mindset of keeping in whatever line of work your father’s father did; factory-worker or otherwise. The change in thought process you experience when you actually do leave the coop, and experience life outside of what you used to know. It’s really quite eye-opening, and Rodney unfortunately only sees life outside from a military perspective, including losing battle companions and friends who he had shed blood and sweat with. This homebody upbringing, coupled with his deployment, forges a character that could only be born from this circumstance. In other words, he’s torn. He wants to be tough, and he wants to be someone he may not actually be.
“Out of the Furnace” includes Willem Dafoe as the local gangster, and Sam Shepard, as Uncle Baze. Two talents not particularly wasted, but without as much screen time as one would hope. Nevertheless, Bale, Harrelson, and Affleck are outstanding. Affleck convinces us of his childlike immaturity and newfound understanding through his whiny voice, and mean temperament. Harrelson is a terrible brute, caring less and less about human life every time we see him. Bale, though sometimes his gruff voice sounds forced, is a profound character, whom we root for, despite his failures. He is a good man, who only wants the best for his family, yet is pushed to, and past his breaking point in the search for Rodney.
The film has opened poorly, likely for its poor sense of pacing. There are many moments during which you may not know where the story is going. We thirst for redemption and resolution of the Baze family, yet the theme of vengeance, and the ultimate demise of the class system seems much too prominent. If anything, “Out of the Furnace” proudly places on pedestals its fantastic actors and their portrayal of family in a failed region of our country.
In closing, I must mention Cooper’s love for music while writing. The man wrote this screenplay in remembrance of his lost father, and his perception of where our capitalist society is taking us. The class system is disappearing, with the gap between upper and lower classes becoming more and more distant. Anyway, Cooper contacted Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and the song “Release”, which is featured on-screen, and in the trailer, was actually rerecorded for “Out of the Furnace”. The two formed an artistic bond, no doubt based on the fact that both of them have lost fathers, bringing the theme of fatherlessness to both their music and films, respectively.
Oh, the times. Here’s an article with the two. Cheers.