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OUT OF THE FURNACE (review)

out_of_the_furnace_ver2OUT OF THE FURNACE
Written by Brad Ingelsby and Scott Cooper
Directed by Scott Cooper

Starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Zoe Saldana

OUT OF THE FURNACE marks Scott Cooper’s second outing as a writer/director. His first, CRAZY HEART, went on to score three Oscar nominations, including a win for Jeff Bridges in the lead actor category. His latest is about family, decisions people make, and the lengths one goes to for those they love. Sounds like CRAZY HEART a tad, doesn’t it? Cooper’s ability to take familiar stories and turn them into seemingly fresh works of art is truly astounding and he manages to do so again with OUT OF THE FURNACE. This time around, he has another team of wonderful actors to help him along on this enjoyable, if not somewhat overdone, journey.

The movie focuses on two brothers, Rodney (Casey Affleck) and Russell (Christian Bale), and their complicated relationship. Rodney is a soldier who comes home after multiple tours of duty and refuses to work alongside his brother in the steel mill. Instead, he decides to use his pent up rage and frustration in underground fights organized by a man named John Petty (Willem Dafoe). There is no redeemable quality to all of this brutality, which makes Rodney difficult to connect with at times. However, much like in CRAZY HEART, Cooper gives us a small, subtle turning point for the character that highlights the morality and reasons behind Rodney’s decisions. When Rodney doesn’t come home after a particularly bad, bare-knuckle fight (with Woody Harrelson), Russell takes it upon himself to find his brother and rectify the injustice brought upon his family. This would be the familiar part I was referring to earlier.

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Cooper’s mark as a director can be felt in both OUT OF THE FURNACE and CRAZY HEART, in these tiny moments he provides for his protagonists that truly make or break the character for the audience, and changes how the movie is viewed. In CRAZY HEART, when Bridges’s character breaks an important promise he made, it takes the character to a place where the audience either feels sympathetic toward him or stops caring about him altogether. In OUT OF THE FURNACE, Bale and Affleck both have moments just like these; they are emotionally driven moments that their life choices have amounted to and that transform them completely. Rodney, who is damaged goods more or less, cannot keep his composure when he fights, but Cooper doesn’t allow us to discount what he has seen in battle. Meanwhile, Russell was once an alcoholic and then went through a horrific experience that changed him completely and allowed him to reconnect with his soul. All in all, Cooper knows his characters, knows they’re complex and knows that the audience will have different reactions to their development.

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Thanks to a strong, talented ensemble (that also includes Zoe Saldana and Forest Whitaker), that is led by a sensitive, understanding director, OUT OF THE FURNACE transforms its familiar tale of brotherly love and taking the law into your own hands, into a beautiful take on the subject. Cooper is not afraid to make risky moves with his characters, decisions audiences may not like, but it certainly pays off in the end, and he stands out as a director of worth as a result. In another director’s hands, OUT OF THE FURNACE may have been a disaster but Cooper knows how to dress up coal to look like a diamond.

3_5

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