[Screen It]


(2013) (Christian Bale, Casey Affleck) (R)

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Drama: A Rust Belt factory worker must contend with unexpected changes in his life, all while worrying about his brother who can't adjust after returning from his fourth military deployment overseas.
It's 2008 and siblings Russell Baze (CHRISTIAN BALE) and Rodney Baze Jr. (CASEY AFFLECK) have lived most of their lives in the Rust Belt town of Braddock, Pennsylvania. While Russell works in the local mill like their terminally ill father once did, the restless Rodney has already served three tours in Iraq and is building up his gambling debt to local bar owner and bookie, John Petty (WILLEM DAFOE). Things take a turn for the worse when Russell ends up imprisoned for vehicular manslaughter, and during his time in the joint his girlfriend, Lena Warren (ZOE SALDANA), leaves him for the local sheriff, Wesley Barnes (FOREST WHITAKER).

After Russell is finally released, he learns that Rodney has been competing in fistfights for John, although his inability to take a fall has angered Curtis DeGroat (WOODY HARRELSON), a volatile hillbilly and tweaker who runs his drug and fighting ring from the backwoods of New Jersey. When that relationship sours even more, Rodney ends up missing. All of which sends Russell and his uncle, Red (SAM SHEPARD), on what they hope will be a successful rescue mission into territory that even the local cops try to avoid.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Everyone knows that most living things need water and oxygen not only to thrive, but also simply survive. Alas, while those elements are good for us and everything living around us, they pose a formidable tag-team combo for anything made entirely or partially of iron. And that's because the three react together to create reddish-brown or reddish-yellow, hydrated ferric oxide, commonly known as rust.

As anyone who's battled that scourge certainly can attest, the longer you let rust "grow," the deeper it penetrates into what was previously solid and handsome, while the addition of any additional catalysts, such as salt air, only expedites the process. While not typically related to the sea, that chemical reaction came to symbolize the demise of old factory, plant and mill-based towns that were labeled together to form the not particularly attractive sounding "Rust Belt."

Such is the case in "Out of the Furnace," writer/director Scott Cooper's ("Crazy Heart") look at the crumbling of a bygone era and that of a particular family in Braddock, Pennsylvania. As co-written by Brad Ingelsby, the tale (which is not based on the 1941 book of the same name that not so coincidentally takes place in that same town) has plenty of other caustic factors contributing to the gritty demise, starting with the patriarch of the family whose terminal illness is more than likely connected to the factory where he worked most of his life.

One of his sons (Christian Bale) seems to be following in his footsteps, with the only bright spot being his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) who appears entirely out of place in a town such as this. The other son (Casey Affleck) wanted no part of that lifestyle and thus joined the military. But multiple deployments overseas into various hotspots have left him a damaged man.

To make matters worse, he owes a local bookie (Willem Dafoe) a lot of money and is fighting for the gambling entertainment of others. All of which eventually gets him in the crosshairs of a hillbilly bookie and drug dealer (a particularly effective Woody Harrelson) who's so volatile that he beats up his date for not liking the way she's eating her hot dog at a drive-in movie theater. That very scene opens the film and thus lets the viewer know what's obviously going to be in store for our brotherly duo.

As both director and co-writer, Cooper is in no particular hurry to move this tale along, a tactic I commend (in this world of rushed and hyped up action and editing on the big screen), at least to a point. And I have to say I admire a filmmaker who takes some risks in terms of what happens to some of his characters, thus moving his offering out of the realm of many a Hollywood pic with black and white villains, heroes and outcomes between the two. That said, and despite the solid to strong performances and the various thematic elements running throughout, the film ultimately feels like reheated leftovers borrowed from a number of other flicks.

There's the returning war vet who can't readjust to normal domestic life and thus gets into trouble, as well as the dying small town plotline. Brotherly dynamics are certainly nothing new, which also holds true for small-time/backwoods drug dealers, organized fighting for money, or a men arming up to go rescue a family member and dispatch some vigilante style justice (although, admittedly, that part does play out differently than one might expect). Heck, there's even a bit of misdirection (where two different sequences are inter-cut as they play out simultaneously) that many will obviously recognize as being inspired by something similar in "The Silence of the Lambs."

Thus, the film ends up coming off like a combo platter of things we've already seen, without putting enough of a fresh or interesting spin on the various elements, let alone the entire piece. That doesn't make any of those subplots or the overall effort bad by any means, but it does end up causing the offering to feel a bit longer than the nearly two hour run time. In the end, "Out of the Furnace" has the appropriately gritty look and feel of corrosion in a Rust Belt town, but not quite enough polish to make it sparkle or even just stand apart from its predecessors. The film rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 11, 2013 / Posted December 6, 2013

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