Thursday, 30 January 2014

Film review: Out Of The Furnace (15)


Out Of The Furnace
(15) 117mins

If Out Of The Furnace were a song, it would be a Bruce Springsteen song. The cover would be a man in a jacket and hoodie, head lowered, walking down a blue collar street of dilapidated cars, peeling paint and rundown bookies.

The beat of the song would be insistent, the lyrics mumbled, but the effect would be quietly moving. And the words would tell a grim story of small-town working folk, trying to make a dime in tough times.

Yes, there would be a nod toward the grandeur of the human spirit in the face of the grind, but, boy, it would be grim.

Russell Baze (Christian Bale) has a hard-knock life but he's OK. He's hitched to Lena (Zoe Saldana), has a job at the mill and, while his wayward brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is a debt-ridden mess and his dad is dying, Russell has just enough money for one and more than enough love for the other.

He is a reasonable man battling unreasonable odds. In Scott "Crazy Heart" Cooper's admirable film, the everyday trials of a Pittsburgh steel town are illuminated by captivating, unshowy performances from a superb ensemble cast.

Difficult to see where the film's going in fact, so humdrum is the course of events. But we know Rodney will be the trigger of the trouble.

He's an Afghan veteran, picking up chump change in bare knuckle fights and losing it down the bookies; the things he's seen he's never going to be steel mill fodder like his dad.

But, out of nowhere, fate decides trouble will visit the good son first, putting him suddenly in prison on a DUI rap. The man who has nothing loses it all - girl, father, job, hope.

This, as I said, is grim fare. These are good people being turned over by life. And when the film loses the courage of its convictions and morphs into a conventional revenge flick,  viewing is more comfortable but less interesting. (Ah, we think, this is genre and not, you know, real life.)

Russell, increasingly hard-bitten, goes all Arnie on the hillbillies (including Woody Harrelson's psycho Harlan DeGroat) in revenge for their treatment of his brother who tried to clear his debts in the cruel backwoods leagues and then just disappeared.

Russell heads to the hills despite the pleas of cop Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker) who also happens to be Lena's bright new future.

And when the revenge arrives, prolonged, drenched, calculated, it is the culmination of Russell's pitiless odyssey. It is reprisal for the hope that was betrayed. Fate has both foreseen and ordained this moment.

You wouldn't necessarily play this song every day, but you'd want it in your collection.

Follow Giles Broadbent on Twitter: @MediaGulch