“Out of the Furnace” starts around the same time frame as last year’s “Killing Them Softly,” which also came out around the same time. The time frame is 2008, before Barack Obama is elected – but during his campaign. They both involve mafia types, but this one focuses more on fight club aspects and debt politics within the mafia because of the economy crash. Though, it’s a bit more subtle – and were just a few vibes I picked up. The time frame isn’t as clear, either, because it starts out when Obama is campaigning, but seems to continue sometime during 2009 or 2010.
The plot follows Russell (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck) who live in the industry town of North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Rodney isn’t enjoying his life very much in this town, and while Russell is getting by, he crashes into the back of a woman’s car killing her and her son, and finds himself in prison. Once he gets out of prison (which I’d estimate is about eighteen months later?), Rodney has found himself deep in dangerous fight clubs. Once he’s released, he must choose between his own freedom or saving his brother.
This is a film about brotherhood, and what one might do for their sibling. I think the bond displayed between the two brothers is great. Rodney is willing to change and work for a living in the steel mill. Before he was in Iraq for four tours, and when he came back, he seemed shaken up from it. He just isn’t cut out for that sort-of life like his brother is, and he is a character that will appeal to many. He is performed well by Casey Affleck. Christian Bale is really good as Russell, as well, a character who is full of mercy on some things, but not on others – and has to make some difficult choices throughout. I thought he was a great character who represents protective older siblings everywhere.
The film, to me, is about brotherhood and how certain events in one’s life can change a person. It seems that Rodney is affected by both his mother’s death as an infant and his tours in Iraq – while Russell faced hardships like prison. I think “Furnace” in the title refers to those hardships, and you must overcome them. It’s also a film about justice and finding it, and that’s the second part of the film mostly.
It gets to it slowly but surely, so it makes me consider this a slow-boiling and intense drama. It seems to me a lot of films set in an industrial town are good, but have slow pacing. Anyway, John Petty (Willem Dafoe) is high up in the fighting rings in North Braddock, and the one to introduce Rodney to them. He also introduces him to Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is a ruthless man high up in the fighting ring in his land, and he seems a bit more threatening with a lollipop in his mouth, something Rodney comments on jokingly. But DeGroat proves he should not be screwed with, as shown in the opening scene where he forcibly makes a woman deepthroat a hot dog (the food…). It expresses his cruelty, where he then proceeds to physically assault an onlooker who attempts to intervene, causing quite the scene at a local drive-in. DeGroat is a good antagonist, and this just reminds everyone of how great of a character actor Harrelson has the ability to consistently be.
This is better than one’s average crime thriller because it’s actually realistic and people receive consequences for their actions. It’s also more thought-provoking and has some compelling character depth, something I wasn’t expecting. The ending is good, and it leaves it up to the viewer to decide how they’d like it to end – morbidly or happily. I’m still deciding how I would have liked things conclude for the characters. It’s a good film and I may re-visit it in the future.