Scott Cooper’s first directorial effort was “Crazy Heart,” which won Jeff Bridges an Oscar. His sophomore project is “Out of the Furnace,” which Cinema Society screened for us today and which opens next month. It could have garnered a nomination for Christian Bale if the Best Actor field weren’t so crowded this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Best Supporting nom for Casey Affleck though.
Set in the depressed (and depressing) steel mill town of Braddock, PA, the story focuses on two brothers. Russell, Bale’s character, works hard at the mill, knowing his days there are numbered since the mill will be closing and the jobs moved to China. Rodney (Affleck) has done numerous tours of duty in Iraq and is floundering. He doesn’t want to work at the mill, doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of trouble either. He gets lured into a truly demonic drugs-and-fighting ring led by Woody Harrelson in one of his crazy-guy roles. Woody’s gang is headquartered over the NJ border in the type of mountain area that’s straight out of “Deliverance” or “Winter’s Bone.” We’re talking about creeps and lowlifes here. The fight scenes are bloody and the violence overall pretty gruesome; some at the screening walked out of the theater. The story is dark and not terribly enlightening and the ending is yet another one of those ambiguous ones that left us scratching our heads, but I loved the acting (Sam Shepard, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker and Willem Dafoe round out the cast) and the sense that I was watching a throwback to films from the ’70s like “The Deer Hunter.”
The movie generated some buzz at the festivals earlier in the year, but I just don’t see it vaulting into the top tier of must-see films. Still, I recommend it for Bale and Affleck. Affleck, who came to the screening for a Q&A along with director Scott Cooper, continues to mature as an actor, and Bale is incapable of giving a bad performance; I couldn’t take my eyes off him.