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January 28, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


Out Of The Furnace presents us with characters and situations that we’ve seen many times before, especially in those stories depicting the worst of America’s filth: small town punks , gambling debts, problems with the law, drug abuse, violence, dealing with the wrong people at the wrong time. The most immediate need of the protagonists is having enough money to make ends meet; their means, however, are only fit to attract inevitable violence. People spend money they don’t have, and abuse alcohol and drugs to escape a life that has only two outcomes: misery and crime. The misery is that of those who work at the furnace: a dangerous and underpaid job in a dirty place, filthy as the roads that lead there, as the houses of those who work there. Crime, on the other hand, keeps money flowing, helps let the steam out, and promises an alternative to that misery; but it’s all a bluff, fixed like the illegal fights and the gambling that will ruin the protagonists’ lives. Everyone who works in the field knows it: nice and not-so-nice dealers, junkie gang leaders, even the powerless police. Those who don’t know it are fatally bewitched, and can’t see that, in reality, easy money is not enough to survive. No one survives at all, and that’s it.

The characters are neither the smartly dressed criminals from a Scorsese film, nor Pulp Fiction’s tough and sophisticated thugs: they come from penniless families, they live to eat, they fall asleep in homes shared by drug addicts and outlaws. The little money they set aside is flushed in drugs, stolen, or lost at the betting shop. And it’s exactly at the betting shop that we first meet Rodney (Casey Affleck): he has no job, no hope, apparently no good judgment either, and usually makes risky bets with other people’s money. His brother Russell (Christian Bale) – a furnace worker who tries to walk the line, keep his job and hang on to his girlfriend – repays his debts, most of the time. Tragedy lingers in both brothers’ lives: for Russell it’s jail, for Rodney it’s the aftermath of war. After serving several years as a Marine and giving everything for his country, he returns home to find there’s nothing left for him, apart from anger, frustration, and a dying father.


The film is a brilliant collection of graphic images and touching moments of truth. The screenplay, written by Brad Ingelsby and director Scott Cooper, cleverly shows how Rodney and Russell’s lives cross paths with small crook John Petty (Willem Dafoe), and psychopath Harlan’s (an incredibly crazy Woody Harrelson) dirty business. The film isn’t perfect, though: the plot is slightly hit-and-miss, and detractors might all too easily cling to its flaws, missing the beauty of the whole. I’m actually still amazed by the performance of everyone involved in this project: from the skill and genuinity of the actors, to Cooper’s ability to create one of the bleakest and most discouraging American dream-wrecking tales ever.

Out Of The Furnace is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday, January 29th.

Davide Prevarin