Coming in late last year, with some small hopes at awards possibilities was Scott Cooper’s Out Of The Furnace. The Crazy Heart director followed up his Oscar winning film with a gloom and doom tale regarding a family of mill workers in North Braddock and an underground illegal gambling fight scene. The film surprisingly (in this day and age) had an opening weekend all to itself upon release. However, it was caught during a juggernaut run of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen dominating the box office and barely made a spark. And come awards time it received no recognition. Although, I’ll argue below, that Christian Bale was far better here than he was in the film he was actually nominated for in the Best Actor category of the Oscars.
Russell Blaze makes a solid living at the mill and has a girlfriend with which promises to have a bright future. It’s all thrown away when he discovers his brother Rodney betting on horseracing, having borrowed money from small bit crime boss John Petty. After letting Petty know he’s going to pay his brother’s debts with his next paycheck, he leaves Petty’s bar drunk and gets in a car wreck killing its passengers. Russell has to serve time for vehicular manslaughter. During that time his father dies, his brother enlists and his girlfriend has moved on with the town sheriff.
When he’s released he tries to get his life back where it was, returning to his job at the mill. But his girlfriend is pregnant with the sheriff and his brother is in even more over his head. Rodney, screwed in the head by his time in Iraq, is now bare-knuckle fighting to repay Petty. Obsessed with taking the fighting to more extreme levels, Rodney forces Petty to set him up with sociopathic drug dealer, Harlan DeGroat. Rodney and Petty disappear after his fight goes down, and Russell takes to finding out what happened to his little brother.
Out Of The Furnace is a solid film that manages to produce some genuine thrills and suspense. It’s also kind of a brutal film in the fact that it’s kind of a total downer from start to finish. Nothing good or hopeful ever sees the light of day for our cast of characters. Nobody smirks, nobody cracks a joke. This a good movie mind you, but its in that vein of something like Monster’s Ball where everyone is down in the dumps at all times. And if they aren’t, just wait a few minutes.
The biggest takeaway from the film is that Christian Bale is absolutely terrific in it. It was his best performance last year. He is leaps and bounds better in Out Of The Furnace than he was in American Hustle. If he would have been nominated for this film for Best Actor and not Hustle, I personally would have had much more respect for the nomination. Where Hustle sees Bale kind of doing his Bale thing, Furnace sees him deep in a unique character and having to deal with a much deeper story as a character. And the guy absolutely nails it. This is a character surrounded by personal and extraneous conflict and Christian handles it with such poise and believability. Despite such a bad deed his character commits in the beginning, you’re able to really get behind the guy and root for things to turn around and go great for him in the end.
Rounding out the cast, you have great performances as well. If anything this is definitely one of those “actor’s movies” where some simpler source material is elevated many levels by its performers. Woody Harrelson is top dog here as DeGroat. A memorable, vicious psychopaths that just drive your nerves nuts watching him because he’s such a wild card and incredibly unpredictable. DaFoe, while scum, might be the most cheery character in the whole thing, and as always the actor shines and gives you his flavor. In a different year, Casey Affleck might have been considered for a Best Supporting Actor turn, but this year was quite crowded in that category (and they didn’t even nominate the clear best performance – Franco in Spring Breakers). A favorite of mine, it was also nice to see Zoe Saldana in something other than a big tentpole or B-level action film. And she does quite well with her part.
This film is a real exercise in intense and suspenseful situations. Its greatest strength is in uncomfortable situations and inevitable doom. Some that get an uneasy and bite their nails all too quick will be a wreck after seeing this film. It’s a very dark movie, quite moody and never seeming too hopeful. It didn’t have to be, and the story itself is super down to earth plays it very lifelike for all those involved. The performances are terrific and the film should have you leaning forward wondering where it’s going to go next and who will even make it out of a scene unscathed.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1
Clarity/Detail: Out Of The Furnace produces an incredibly life-like and natural picture. All the grime and dirt is noticeable by the spec. The wear of the town, from rust to paint crack is all translated to the highest degree in the picture. It’s a sharp and bold image that will engage you in the film even more.
Depth: This Blu-ray really delivers the scope of this town; its size and emptiness. Characters and objects feel naturally 3 dimensional.
Black Levels: Black levels are perfect and have some nice variations on shading. Texture is visible in even the darkest of hair and fabrics.
Color Reproduction: This isn’t a bright and bold movie, but the colors are rich and varied. If you think I’m overusing the word “natural”, you’re right. The image has a very true to life sense with its colors and textures.
Flesh Tones: Skin is consistent and super rich. It reveals freckles, blemishes and every nick there is. A very natural and life-like appearance.
Noise/Artifacts: This transfer looks exceptionally flawless.
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Dynamics: When Christian Bale gets into a car crash at the beginning of the film, it sounded like it was really happening right in front of me. This track a very real and detailed translation of everything going on in the film. The foley work is tremendously represented here.
Low Frequency Extension: From car wrecks, the thumping of a pump and loud gun blasts, the subwoofer gives this film an extra level of intensity with the oompf it provides in expected places.
Surround Sound Presentation: There’s a lot of ambient work going on in the rear speakers to produce a genuine feel for the locations in the film. Right to left has plenty of fun as bullets and such whiz on by.
Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is clear and clean.
Out Of The Furnace comes with an UltraViolet copy of the film. It’s a very EPK-based slew of extras, but the one on the fighting scenes and the score are a bit more involving and interesting.
Inspiration (HD, 3:30) – The cast tells what films and such inspired them to get into acitng.
Scott Cooper (HD, 6:39) – Director Scott Cooper discusses what inspired him to tell this story of “deep Americana” while the cast sits and pats him on the back verbally with their interviews.
Crafting The Fight Scenes (HD, 5:15) – Stunt coordinator Ben Bray goes over his technique and approach to creating very real and dangerous fight scenes. They also cover how deep and character-rich Casey Affleck’s fighting was.
The Music Of Out Of The Furnace (HD, 9:07) – Scott Cooper and the composer talks about what music influence the writing, the characters and the period where the film is set.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:24)
Sneak Peek – Trailers for Paranoia, The Family, Don Jon, The Bridge Season 1
While I wasn’t too enthused with the extras, the picture and audio quality on the film are incredible. One should at least seek out this Blu-ray, via a rental to see how incredible this presentation is. I don’t know how many times I’ll ever revisit Out Of The Furnace, but on its first viewing the film is rather effective. This Blu-ray from Fox gives the film its best chance and gaining a following as its presentation is flawless. This dramatic thriller features some great suspense and a cast giving top notch performances. Definitely check it out.