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Out of the Furnace (5/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 116 minutes.

Not for children.

…and into the fire for an unsuspecting person who wanders into a theater not knowing what to expect. This is unremittingly depressing and graphically violent. At times during the first hour, however, I thought I had died and gone to a Terence Malick movie, so slow is the first hour with so many Malick-like shots of inanimate objects and people thinking.

Written (from an original script by Brad Inglesby) and directed by Scott Cooper, this is an attempt to tell the story of life in a Pennsylvania steel town, in this case the real town of Braddock, where the film was shot, and where Andrew Carnegie opened his first steel mill.

The story doesn’t really begin until after the first hour has run its course. It’s an ordeal to sit through it, one of the longest setups one will be forced to endure before getting into the guts of the story. But once the plot becomes apparent, it’s so dark and drear that it destroys the point that Cooper might be trying to make, whatever that is.

When you sit through it, the result seems to have no premise, no moral, and no story except for revenge. It is basically an exposition of the disheartening life of those living in places like Braddock. On the positive side, it does contain some fine performances by Willem Dafoe, Casey Affleck, and Woody Harrelson, however. Star Christian Bale isn’t pressed much by the script or his role. He’s kind of the glue that holds things together. Problem is, there’s not much to hold together.

Dafoe is particularly effective. I was wishing he had been on screen more. Harrelson, for his part, creates one of the creepiest villains since Richard Widmark’s debut as psychopathic killer Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947). Both give award-quality performances.

Maybe Affleck’s performance doesn’t reach the award level, but it’s good enough that he produces a distinctive quality making his scenes memorable.

In addition to the fine performances, the cinematography (Masanobu Takayanagi) creates much of the darkness and lack of hope which permeates the film and makes Braddock and the New Jersey Ramapo Mountains, where Harrelson and his incestuous crime gang exist, essential characters in the film. In fact, the way the film is shot in these locales is one of the reasons to justify sitting through this.

Filming was accomplished in 34 shooting days, an astonishingly short period of time for a full length feature, especially when it was all shot on location. There wasn’t one scene filmed on a sound stage.

But the downside is that the film reeks with hopelessness and disaster. Even the dénouement is unsatisfying.

December 3, 2013