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Article by Teddy Durgin

Out of the Furnace Burns Itself Out

In my review of Matthew McConaughey's "Mud" earlier in the year, I wrote that the film was like a great Johnny Cash song come to life. It was a terrific, little thriller that felt real and immediate thanks to its earthy, blue-collar characters; vivid, Southern milieu; and rural mannerisms. By contrast, the new thriller "Out of the Furnace" is like a bad Bruce Springsteen song come to life. It's like one of those slow, acoustic tunes The Boss gets out of his system every couple of years about hopeless, small-town worker bees unable to break free from the cycle of their miserable lives. You'll feel like complete doo-doo after you see this movie, folks. The film, co-written and directed by Scott Cooper, is not really interested in characters or story. It's interested in one thing. Grime. In every scene, the camera glides slowly, even lovingly past the grit, grime, filth and dirt of the Pennsylvania mill town that the characters inhabit. There are boarded-up homes, unmowed lawns, rusty cars. Doors are off their hinges, sinks are cluttered with dishes, mirrors are smudged, trash cans are full. Clutter is everywhere. It's bleak as all Hell. So, the characters have to drink. They have to bet on the ponies, get into bare-knuckle fights for money and serve multiple tours of duty in "The I-rack." The action is set in Braddock, the town that Gillette forgot. Ain't no one has a good shave there. We meet Russell Baze (Christian Bale), who toils during the day in the local factory, takes care of his terminally ill dad in the evenings and spends his nights with local teacher Lena (Zoe Saldana). His little brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), is just back from the Middle East and is already getting into trouble. To pay off a debt, he and a local fence named John Petty (Willem Dafoe) agree to allow Rodney to duke it out in a scary underground fight club somewhere in Appalachia. The fights are sanctioned and run by a spectacularly angry hillbilly named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). When his deal with Petty goes bad, Harlan goes bad and Rodney and John are never seen again. Russell takes it upon himself to exact revenge. The film is one of those examples of Hollywood trying to do "blue collar" and way over-shooting the mark. Everyone in the flick just relishes gettin' ugly. Teeth are stained, tattoos are inked, hair is tangled. They all wear ripped jeans and hooded sweatshirts. They mumble, they mutter, they spit. You know a movie is gonna be a downer when the very first scene has Harrelson vomiting out the door of his car at a drive-in movie, then force-feeding his girlfriend an entire hot dog down her throat, before beating the snot out of the guy in the next car over who has come to help. And it doesn't get much more chipper from there. I'll give the film points for its locations and atmosphere. And Cooper proves once again that he is a capable director of actors. But the film has an overly loose structure that is just frustrating. Cooper ratchets up the tension in several places, only to fumble the payoff time and again. And the climax is just... well... dumb. I can't give much away. But the final confrontation that the movie has been building up to for two hours is just completely undermined by the audience looking away from the screen pretty much every 30 seconds and asking aloud: "Uh, what's Russell's plan here?" "Why is he doing THAT?" "Did he mean for THAT to happen?" And, most importantly, "How did it go from night to day that fast?!" I think the idea here was to deliver a gritty crime thriller laced with social commentary on life in these here U-nited States circa 2013. But it's a botched attempt. There's some fire in this "Furnace," but it burns out pretty quickly.

"Out of the Furnace" is rated R for strong violence, language and drug content.

 

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