Saturday, 1 February 2014

Film Review: Out of the Furnace (2013)

Director: Scott Cooper
Writers: Brad Ingelsby and Scott Cooper
Stars: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana and Woody Harrelson

Watching Out Of The Furnace I got a warm feeling inside. Not because the story is a delight or because the characters are charming (far, far from it), but because I was reminded of the cinematic sensibilities of American cinema of the 1970s. To my mind, nothing can touch the American New Wave for consistent brilliance; the film makers had something to say, often driven by political climates, or a vision so strong that nothing was going to get in their way, even if it ultimately resulted in financial failure. The art came first; an ethic seemingly lost today.

Director Scott Cooper shares my love for that period and this, his second feature, reminds us of what modern American cinema is so sorely missing. That said, when films such as this and David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints do get released, they fill me with such joy that I believe, for a fleeting moment, that not all cinema is now driven by the studios and ‘likes’ on Facebook to unlock teaser clips.

Anyone who calls themselves a film fan will see Cooper clearly and unashamedly paying homage to Michael Cimino’s 1978 masterpiece The Deer Hunter throughout the film, sometimes to a fault. Moreover, the final shot is, according to the director, inspired by the final shot of Francis Ford Coppola’s flawless picture The Godfather Part II. I didn’t see the connection when I saw the film, as many won’t, but reading interviews with the director allows me to appreciate the film even more. The final shot now says so much with so little, keeping in line with the screenplay as a whole.

The film uses dialogue sparingly, often relying on the viewer to bridge gaps in narrative and time. As brothers Russell and Rodney Baze, Christian Bale and Casey Affleck communicate not purely through words but with actions, punches, revving car engines. They feel like real brothers off the page, as does the relationship between Russell and his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) feel like two people who are, and have been, in love. There is a scene on a bridge, after the two have had to split, that is heart achingly sad; it’s the sort of emotion that only great acting, intelligent writing, and perfect lens choice to both get close and then distance and isolate characters can bring.

This isn’t a complex film in its story, but there is so much going on contextually that Cooper builds far more from this simple story than one might expect. There is a dower mood and foreboding sense of dread from the very first scene, which applies an extra layer of gloom to the already gloomy situation the characters find themselves in. It is 2008 and the US economy is in a slump which means the mill where Russell has worked all his life is facing closure. Rodney is back from Iraq, unable to find a job like his brother has, or unwilling to accept this is normality for him if he stays in the town. Rodney, so full of rage and aggression, pays his debts by bare knuckle boxing, but is being asked to take a dive and that is something which goes against the code he holds as a man.

Cooper’s skill as a director are on show in two fantastic, if very obvious, cross cutting scenes depicting the rebuilding of one brother’s life whilst the other slowly leads himself to ultimate destruction. I have no problem with these sequences, despite the most clear comparisons to The Deer Hunter the film has, for they drive the story forward with a grace we so rarely see anymore. I ask, however, is it better for a young director to take inspiration from such as film as Cimino’s in a cinematic climate such as today’s where films are being promoted three years before release and sequels are greenlit before the first film even comes out, or stick to the same copy and paste formula in sad attempts to mask the fact that a director has no vision or love for their material?

Considering, at the time of writing, the film has taken less than $12 million in nearly two months at the US box office and The Hangover Part III took more than that in its first day, it’s no surprise this type of film making and film maker is so scarce.

Cooper’s film is violent in a way which reminds us how uncomfortable and real violence is. The boxing scenes with Rodney are unforgiving, but the scenes where Russell is called into action struck me the most. The final act, where the film may well divide most audience, is essentially a revenge story but not one where a man takes on an army which results in a climatic gun battle. No, in Cooper’s film the climax has no entertainment or pleasure for either audience or character and revenge is not seen a cathartic. Notice that Russell is at a distance when he fires his gun; he distances himself for the shots both physically and metaphorically for this is not his world but a world he now finds himself drawn into but also one he can still escape. He cannot get out of the furnace, but he’s not yet into the fire.

I can’t pretend the film is without its minor issues, most notably an ill conceived rip off of The Silence Of The Lambs which should have been taken out for it adds false tension when the film is naturally tense and dangerous as it is. The inclusion of Forest Whitaker as the local sheriff who is now dating Russell’s ex-girlfriend does seem rather trite, but is necessary for the aforementioned final shot to have impact, considering the actions which unfold moments before.

As you can see, Out Of The Furnace is my type of cinema. It’s reminiscent of the cinema I watched when I began to appreciate the art of film making and the films I fall back on whenever I’m asked to name some of my favourites. We’ll never see a Heaven’s Gate, The Deer Hunter, or McCabe and Mrs Miller again but it’s nice to know some directors want to evoke that style once again.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: I’ll leave the final word to Cooper, who said in a recent interview: “If [critics] crush a film like this, then we're all in cape misery and sequels and comic book movies. So many people who have seen the film are saying the exact same thing: They want to see movies like this.” I couldn’t agree with him more.

No comments:

Post a Comment