Saturday, December 7, 2013

Out of the Furnace [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars)  ChicagoSunTimes (4 Stars) (C+)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
Chicago Suntimes (R. Roeper) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Out of the Furnace [2013] (directed and cowritten by Scott Cooper along with Brad Ingelsby) is a gritty blue-collar story with some excellently-crafted characters and situations set in rural/Appalachia Pennsylvania steel country that do evoke such iconic films as The Deer Hunter [1978] and the more recent The Fighter [2010] (both nominated for/winning a plethora of Oscars in their years).

However, it would seem to me that the current film, Out of the Furnace, spends _way too much time_ in portraying some episodes of exceptionally brutal violence that IMHO ultimately undercuts the rest of the film.   Worse the film's story STUPIDLY falls victim to the terrible Hollywood cliche' NEEDLESSLY denigrating "Hillbillies" / "Hicks" that I've written about (and condemned...) repeatedly in this blog (see my reviews of Shark Night [2011], Straw Dogs [2011] and more positively Tucker & Dale vs. Evil [2010] which challenged the stereotype).  Indeed, I had purposefully avoided seeing the recent film The Home Front [2013] for its more-or-less obvious "Hicks are amphetamine-crazed/Evil bastards" messaging.  Now I find the same messaging here in the supremely evil "inbred Hillbilly" (actual characterization of him and "his kind" by one of the steel-town/"city dweller" characters in the film) Harlon DeGroat (played by Woody Harrelson).  All that was missing was someone "twanging on a banjo" as in Deliverance [1972], the "Birth of a Nation" [IMDb] of "Hicks are Evil" "liberal" film-making.

So I find myself very frustrated writing about this film!

The story is about two brothers from the small steel town of Braddock, Pennsylvania. The older, Russell Baze (played by Christian Bale), is actually quite well drawn as someone who was flawed, even at times horribly unlucky but trying very hard to build an honest life for himself.  The other, younger Rodney Baze, Jr (played by Casey Affleck) is less nuanced, and portrayed as an increasingly troubled many-times deployed Marine who one starts to believe was actually safer in Iraq / Afghanistan than at home.  For "at home" Rodney _always_ got himself into money problems because of an (acquired?) "living on the edge" gambling addiction.

Inevitably, Rodney's gambling addiction/money problems get him in trouble with organized crime figures, be they the still rather civilized even arguably "paternal" local (still "city-dwelling") mob boss named John Petty (played by Willem DeFoe) or (eventually/inevitably) the crazed animalistic Evil Man "inbred Hillbilly" named Harlon DeGroat already mentioned above, living with his goons in the hill country outside of town.  Big brother Russell spends much of his time in the story trying to keep (and at times rescue) younger brother Rodney out of trouble.

But trouble finds Russell tragically as well.  A key difference between Russell and his younger brother appears to be that ever responsible Russell seems to accept the consequences of his actions (even to a fault) while the younger Rodney (perhaps strung out after so many deployments, perhaps even calling them on,,,) seemed to _search out_ ways to make his life more difficult.

Other well conceived characters include Lena Taylor (played by Zoe Saldana) Russell's girlfriend at the beginning of the story as well as her honestly _good guy_ cop boyfriend Wesley Barnes (played by Forrest Whitaker) who Russell finds her going-out with after a horribly tragic (drunk driving) accident lands Russell in jail for a number of years.  Honestly, what a tragedy.  Yet, Russell did get behind the wheel that time (and probably other times).  And yes, he did kill somebody utterly innocent as a result.  Still, he found himself paying for that mistake in ways that he never, ever would have imagined beforehand.  (Great writing!)

These, as well as others, were clearly very well conceived, often very nuanced characters.  So why did the film-makers choose to ruin it all with adding the STUPIDLY CONCEIVED utterly unnuanced CARTOON (from Hell) MONSTER Harlon DeGroat. 

The story itself is a supreme tragedy, but the story of the inventing of the story becomes a tragedy itself.  Without the monster Harlon DeGroat, this could have been an Oscar worthy film.  (Who knows, it may even be nominated anyway, however only at the expense of needlessly stereotyping/ridiculing "Hillbilly"/"rednecks.")

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