“Out of the Furnace,” a film written and directed by Scott Cooper, reckons itself a fair portrait of those once considered to be America’s backbone but, in the course of two generations, have become a dying breed.
The subject is blue-collar workers, specifically a pair of brothers at the center of Cooper’s pastiche. Where they go from the economic downturn of 2008, and how they cope, are questions posed and answered in a surprising, but unsatisfying, manner. Whether the events surrounding this pair are even credible is another question.
The film is beautifully shot. Its well-written, sparse dialog is a pleasure. The story turns on two excellently drawn characters, brothers Russell and Rodney Blaze Jr., brought to life by Christian Bale and Casey Affleck. Sons of a Pittsburgh steel worker, each man’s life spins out of control in different ways. Rodney suffers from addictions and opinions that prevent him from settling his uneasy mind. He’s a gambler and has gotten in too deep with local bookie John Petty (Willem Dafoe).
Frequently Russell spends his hard-earned money getting Rodney out of debt, obliging Russell to work double shifts at the steel mill in order to create a future for himself and girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana). That is until, after one too many drinks at the local bar, a tragic accident lands Russell in prison. Years pass, but we aren’t certain how many. When Russell is finally released, Rodney has become a bare-knuckle fighter entangled with an unscrupulous and violent meth dealer, Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).
Nothing goes well for these two, and their decisions make their paths difficult.
The film, with its outrageous turns, doesn’t qualify as a cautionary tale. Also, the warnings for blue-collar workers are several years late. What remains is a tense drama featuring crackling good performances that may or may not make you feel better for the viewing.