Thursday, December 12, 2013
"Out of the Furnace": rust belt tragedy is a mixture of genres
“Out of the Furnace”, as a movie title, would make me think of Nebuchadnezzar and the fiery furnace and “Daniel”, maybe even Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera “The Burning Fiery Furnace”. In the new film by Scott Cooper, the furnace is the blue-collar factory workplace, dirty and dangerous, and disintegrating. In this case, home is Braddock, PA, somewhere near Pittsburgh, where brothers Rodney and Russell Baze (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) have struggled through a proletariat life, meeting the whims of the rest of us. But the bourgeoisie is nowhere to be seen in this epic, which seems like a cross between “The Deer Hunter” and a Cormac McCarthy novel, without the Coen Brothers humor. Actually, the credits don’t mention a novel (I expect that); instead, the story seems to be original with writers Brad Ingelsby and Scott Cooper (a Virginia native).
The film opens with a scene at a drive-in. I think the encapsulated scene is that Toronto subway sequence from “The Matrix” but I didn’t notice in the credits. We see fight promoter Harlan DeCroat (Woody Harrelson, in one of his most chilling roles since Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” in 1994) with a woman. He leans out of the car and vomits. But he carries on and soon is in a confrontation. That sets the tone for what he will do with younger brother Russ, who becomes cannon fodder for his brass knuckle amateur prize fights somewhere in the Ramapo Mountains in northern New Jersey (echo of "Fight Club"). .
The early part of the film is about older brother Rodney, whose machismo sets such a compelling example for his baby brother, already a wounded Iraq war veteran. One night, DUI, he kills a couple people. The film quickly transmits his short sentence in state penitentiary , which was actually filmed near Moundsville, W Va. When he returns, with their dad gone from emphysema, he feels even more protective of his equally weathered baby brother, who had done the caregiving of dad. The baby brother repeatedly travels to this mysterious area in north Jersey to fight for money, because they owe so much. The “boys” in the mountains live outside the law, and the brothers owe a lot of money. That sets up the final tragic unraveling, which is quite riveting.
I lived in Caldwell, NJ in 1973, and I don’t recall anything about a wild bunch like this in the mountains, which rise to all of 1300 feet and grace the scenery along I-287. The Sierra Club used to do day hikes there.
The grime and despair of the rusting factories and open hearth steel mills comes through quite well.
I saw this before a sparse audience late Wednesday at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA in the recliner seats. The auditorium was cold!