This week, Drafthouse Films is re-releasing the cult classic “Ms. 45,” Abel Ferrara’s 1981 rape and revenge tale which, in retrospect, was really rather revolutionary. As part of Women’s Week at RogerEbert.com, Sheila O’Malley, Susan Wloszczyna and I had the pleasure of doing on online roundtable discussion of the film.
Rated R for strong violence language and drug content.
Running time: 116 minutes.
Two and a half stars out of four.
“Out of the Furnace” is a down-and-dirty revenge picture whose classy cast elevates it above its gritty, grimy trappings.
Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are chief among them as troubled brothers who choose disparate paths to escape the morass of their depressed Steel Belt town. The year is 2008, in the midst of the presidential race; the economy hasn’t even collapsed yet but this particular corner of Pennsylvania obviously has been in decline for a while.
Bale’s Russell Baze toils all day at the local mill and spends his free time tending to his ailing father; his girlfriend, a nursery school teacher played by a believably de-glammed Zoe Saldana, provides him with the few opportunities for joy in his life. Younger brother Rodney (Affleck) has just returned from his fourth tour of duty in Iraq. Understandably shaken by his experiences there, he struggles to make a little cash through bare-knuckle boxing and betting on horse races with the help of a low-level gangster (Willem Dafoe as ersatz father figure).
Both brothers endure their share of ups and downs in this slow burn of a film from director and co-writer Scott Cooper. Having previously brought us “Crazy Heart,” Cooper clearly knows his way around tormented, damaged men. Here, he borrows heavily from both early Bruce Springsteen songs and “The Deer Hunter” — seriously, there’s even a subplot in which Russell hunts deer — creating a vivid sense of place in this rusted town full of broken people. It may all seem familiar but the scenery is tangibly, beautifully bleak.
It takes him a while to get to the pivotal event that turns “Out of the Furnace” from a lived-in character study into a violent tale of vengeance. Cooper and co-writer Brad Ingelsby introduce us in startling fashion at the start of the picture to Harlan DeGroat, the tatted and depraved meth dealer who rules the region from his ramshackle, mountaintop hideout, and who will become the target of Russell’s ire by the end. Woody Harrelson is just chilling in the role because he’s so unpredictable, but his inevitable collision with Bale’s character almost feels like an afterthought. It isn’t nearly as compelling as everything that came before it, simply because it feels so formulaic.
Still, the performances from a strong supporting cast that includes Sam Shepard as the brothers’ uncle and Forest Whitaker as the town sheriff always gives the film a sense of substance and heft.
Bale conveys so much through the sheer stillness and quiet of his presence. You can sense his character’s internal urges to find a better way, to turn his life around, as well as the weight of the realization that he must commit some horrific acts in the name of redemption. (The fact that Russell becomes so knowledgeable and comfortable functioning as an undercover bad-ass isn’t terribly well-developed, however.)
Affleck, meanwhile, takes the opposite approach: His desperation and volatility are out there on display. His raspy, reed-thin voices constantly sounds as if it’s on the verge of breaking, which adds tension to every scene he’s in. You just know he’s going to make one bad decision after another. But neither of these men will ever truly be able to climb out of the furnace — they’ll just get used to tolerating the heat.
“Twice Born” takes the Bosnian conflict and tastelessly uses it as the backdrop for a melodramatic romance and a twisty mystery involving paternity. The ill-suited Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch struggle to convince us that they’re desperately in love with each other. My RogerEbert.com review.
Looking back at the solid career and sad death of Paul Walker, star of the “Fast & Furious” franchise who perished in a fiery car crash at a charity event. I’m still sad thinking about the loss of this likable actor.
Alonso, Matt and I are mixed on “Out of the Furnace.” It’s a gritty, grimy genre picture about meth heads and backwoods criminals that’s elevated by an excellent cast including Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson.