Friday, 31 January 2014

Movie Review: Out of the Furnace

This is not a heart-warming film, not by any stretch of the imagination. ‘Out of the Furnace’ is a story full of misfortune and melancholy that shows how even good intentions have no bearing on preventing the indifferent hand of fate from dealing a cruel blow.

After returning from a stint in prison, Russell Baze (Christian Bale) is tasked with cleaning up after his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), who has become involved with a very dangerous and violent criminal (Woody Harrelson).

Christian Bale really gives a remarkable performance here. At first I was somewhat numb to it as he seemed to be just speaking the lines without much passion but after a while I realised that this character is supposed to begin that way. At first Russell Baze is a humble man who is just trying his best in life, when the change does occurs in him and he becomes internally twisted as human being it is made even more present as a result of Christian Bale’s previously subdued character work. The range of emotions Bale has to exhibit in the film is tough even for an actor of his calibre as Russell Baze swings from depression to grief to anger and finally to shame in such a short period of time, most of these emotional fluctuations do not even have lines to supplement them meaning that Bale is forced to rely purely on the energy he exudes to inform the character. Alongside Bale the other highlight of ‘Out of the Furnace’ is Woody Harrelson who clearly revels in the villainous role of the unhinged and volatile drug addict Harlan DeGroat. Harrelson delivers a very menacing performance that gives the character of DeGroat a presence felt in the film even when he is not onscreen.

Christian Bale acutely portrays a man wracked with grief over a mistake that changed his life.

Casey Affleck really does an admirable job at playing Russell Baze’s younger brother Rodney, a man so clearly traumatised by war and the horrors he has experienced in combat that he has been left filled with aggression and unresolved grief. My only concern with the character of Rodney is that I felt he went underdeveloped from a scripting perspective. This failing ultimately affected how I as the viewer perceive, where instead of feeling the same empathy that Russell feels, I instead started to hate him quite a bit as many, if not all, of the ill-fated events that occur in the film can be traced directly back to Rodney’s reckless actions. In my opinion it is too clear to see that Rodney is the bane of Russell’s existence, someone who continually screws up and leaves his older brother to deal with the fallout.

Scott Cooper, who previously directed Jeff Bridges to a Best Actor Oscar in ‘Crazy Heart’, brings the same musicality from that film to this one, providing the often-bleak backdrop of North Braddock with a contrastingly poignant score from Dickon Hinchliffe. Cooper brings a tangible sense of immediacy to his direction of the events of the story as a result of his choice of focusing on tight camera angles that work excellently with the tension wrought performances given by Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson. I also felt strongly that Cooper’s choice of handling conflict in an incredibly unflinching manner was a stroke of genius, whenever violence occurs in the film it feels real and visceral thanks to a purposeful lack of staging or framing, this if nothing else is true to the tone set forth by the movie as a whole.

Bale and Affleck have great onscreen chemistry as they play the Baze brothers.

‘Out of the Furnace’ for all its triumphs does unfortunately have an Achilles heel, and that heel is pacing. The film continually lets itself down by allowing the pace slow to a crawl throughout until it reaches a terrific conclusion. The climax here is exactly what you want from this type of film, a tense and exciting sequence that finishes the story on a high note. The issue however is that the finale, in its superiority, has the unfortunate side effect of highlighting the missed opportunities present in the rest of the picture. Personally if the standard of the ending was indicative of the film as a whole then I would no reservations in considering ‘Out of the Furnace’ an utter success, but sadly that is just not the case.

There are aspects of this film that I really adore, but when considered alongside the less noteworthy facets I realise that it just slipped up a little too often to be the film it could have been. ‘Out of the Furnace’ is an impressively told story driven by an extraordinary performance by Christian Bale; it’s a film I have no problem in recommending because I’m certain that there are people who will find an amazing film here where I merely found a great one.

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