From the moment Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace begins, a disquieting, dark atmosphere is created. With a scene taking place at a drive-in cinema, we see Woody Harrelson’s Harlan DeGroat forcing a female acquaintance to eat a sausage, before proceeding to then brutally attack a man who gets involved. From this moment forth, it’s a bleak, morbid affair.
Following this barbarous opening act, we are introduced to Russell Baze (Christian Bale): a diligent and industrious man enjoying life alongside his partner, Lena (Zoe Saldana), before he has one too many whiskies on an evening out and ends the night with manslaughter charges following a drink driving incident. Sentenced to a spell in confinement, in the meanwhile his unreliable, volatile younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) finds himself bare-knuckle boxing to make some quick cash, which is where he meets the menacing Harlan HeGroat. As Russell is released from prison, he embarks on a journey to find his brother, and attempts to set him straight – though he has a few personal issues of his own to address first.
Though the film is somewhat melodramatic – with a series of tragic events all occurring across a short period of time – Cooper’s direction ensures it never once feels contrived, and remains authentic and naturalistic throughout. The performances help a tremendous amount too, particularly a stunning turn from Bale as our protagonist. He’s a remarkable actor, and there’s a scene that takes place on a bridge, where Lena tells Russell that while he was in prison she had met another man (played by Forest Whitaker) and that she’s pregnant with his child. Bale’s response is borderline inhuman, as he displays complete devastation with pure, utter elation – in one single facial expression. The characters are so well fleshed out too, as both Russell and Rodney are incredibly empathetic and endearing, despite the flaws and imperfections they both carry.
Cooper gained incredible success with his debut feature Crazy Heart – picking up two Oscars for his efforts, and now this second project was arguably an even more challenging task, given the pressure placed upon him. However he has passed with flying colours, presenting a film even more accomplished than what came before. Here’s hoping he continues going from strength to strength, as we eagerly await whatever this talented young filmmaker tackles next.