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Friday, 06 December 2013 01:00

'Out of the Furnace' burns up the screen + Video

'Out of the Furnace' burns up the screen
Written by Diane Carson
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"Out of the Furnace" wants to be a blue collar, gritty film, and it succeeds. Set in Braddock, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh) in 2008, the future for the steel mill workers looks about as bleak as the sky and the town. Two brothers pursue different paths: Russell still employed at the mill, younger Rodney floundering, heading off to Iraq.

Both will get caught up in trouble: Russell ending up in prison, Rodney in bare-knuckle boxing organized by ruthless drug dealers. As intimidating and mean as any actor working, Woody Harrelson, as criminal top dog Harlan DeGroat (great name), sets the tone for sadistic callousness in the opening scene with an ugly misogyny. But as Harlan says, asked by Rodney if he has a problem with him, "I have a problem with everybody." Harlan also has a feral lack of respect for life that his subordinates share.

Every technical element of director Scott Cooper's "Out of the Furnace" contributes to its creating a disturbing sense of unease. Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography and Gary Kosko's art direction make every location feel genuine and, in most instances, so grimy and dirty you wouldn't want to touch a thing. David Rosenbloom's editing moves the story along while pushing our faces into some stomach-turning brutality and its aftermath. A few pauses for reflection, usually Russell's, provide needed calm while the tension still builds. And Dickon Hinchliffe's music ratchets up apprehension without calling attention to its consistent effectiveness.

But above all, this is an actors' film, and with the cast assembled, how could it not be? In contrast to Harrelson, Christian Bale is the calm center of the storm as Russell Baze. Casey Affleck plays Russ's brother Rodney, the catalyst for trouble, an Iraqi War vet who struggles to readjust and manage his anger in a fight, an unfortunate stereotype but played well by Affleck. In supporting roles Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Zoe Saldana deliver, though there isn't much for women here.

"Out of the Furnace" has almost no feel good moments in its tale of brothers' love and revenge set in a psychologically and physically dark environment. At a Landmark Theatre.

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