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Russell Baze (Christian Bale) leads a dead-end life – he works a meaningless steel mill job all day, and cares for his terminally ill father at night. When Russell’s brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) returns home from Iraq, he is lured into one of the Northeast’s most ruthless crime rings and mysteriously disappears. When the police fail to solve the case, Russell puts his life at risk in order to seek justice for his brother. (From Fox’s original synopsis)

 Out of the Furnace
Actor-turned-filmmaker Scott Cooper’s only other film as director is 2009’s Crazy Heart, which was a relatively strong debut anchored in an Oscar-winning performance by Jeff Bridges. Out of the Furnace is a more impressive film in terms of technical direction, I suppose, but Cooper follows a well-worn template when it comes to his framing and editing choices. It’s a good-looking product without being a particularly impressive one. At his best, Cooper creates suspense out of mesmerizing stillness, but his stiff-faced need to bind the film in dread makes for a numbing overall experience. By creating an unrelentingly bleak world, he undermines the film’s bigger shocks and flattens the drama. Likely due to the fact that he helped Bridges earn an Oscar, Cooper was able to assemble an impressive cast that includes patriarchs, like Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard, more recently designated thespians, like Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, and Zoe Saldana, and in-betweeners, like Woody Harrelson and Forest Whitaker. Everyone makes a solid effort (Bale and Saldana share one hell of a crying scene), but the characters are either too under-defined or too broad to be entirely compelling. Harrelson and Affleck are particularly underwhelming as shadows of characters they’ve played better in the past, while Whitaker and Dafoe’s performances appear to have been left mostly on the cutting room floor.

The script, co-written by Cooper and Brad Ingelsby, is a by-the-numbers crime drama with a heavy emphasis on family. An inexperienced, rash character resents his family’s long work history and gets in over his head with criminal activity. His older brother is trying to overcome a criminal past, but has to embrace his dark side when things turn sour. The only female character with any major lines is a long-lost love interest that represents a better time and, just in case we didn’t get the metaphor, she’s a preschool teacher, so innocent children surround her. The villain is also more of a shape than a human being. His only character trait is that he doesn’t like people (‘Do you have a problem with me?’/‘I have a problem with everyone.’). And for good measure, the source of the small town’s industrial prosperity, a steel mill, is going to be closed. This laundry list of clichés and overused cultural analogies are strong enough to still be compelling in the right hands, but, without narrative and tonal texture, the story feels like a slow march to the inevitable (emphasis on the slow – the entire first act could’ve been consigned to a pre-credit sequence).

 Out of the Furnace

Video


Out of the Furnace was shot on 35mm and is presented here in 2.35:1, 1080p HD video. The image is gritty, dark, and dynamic, embracing the toothiness of the grain without being overwhelmed by it. The format, coupled with the unrelenting darkness of many scenes, makes for some occasionally muddied shots. Overall, details are crisp, including intricate close-up textures and some beautiful deep-set patterns (nature shots are especially gorgeous). Cooper and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi rely on a little digital grading to create a more consistent palette. Their version of Pennsylvania is continuously overcast and slathered in cool, desaturated hues. Daylight exteriors and interiors are smoothed out with unnatural teals that bleed out into almost every white level and highlight, yet skin tones, earthy browns, and the greenest vegetation appear naturalistic and rich. The darker scenes have warmer tints, including saturated oranges and reds. These hues are vivid and unaffected by notable blocking effects, but do tend to alter the otherwise thick and clean black levels. At ‘worst,’ the heavy shadows and hard edges produce minor halo effects.

 Out of the Furnace

Audio


Despite the film being more dialogue than action-based, this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is big and burly. Even the lowest low-key interaction includes a prevalent hum of natural ambience. The chug and clang of the steel mill is never far from the frame during daylight scenes while night sequences buzz with the sounds of nocturnal critters. In both cases the stereo and surround channels play a strong part in the mix and the character/camera movements create a palpable sense of movement. The more aggressive effects are often set apart via subjective sound augmentation. For example, the noise of a fist fight is dulled and sharpened as a punch-drunk character slides in and out of consciousness. The dialogue track is mostly clean, though the fact that so much of it was clearly caught on location (and not ARD’d) causes some minor inconsistencies and distortions at the highest volumes. The soundtrack, composed by former Tindersticks member Dickon Hinchliffe with additional songs from Pearl Jam, drones under the film’s prevalent sense of dread with rumbling electric bass and mandolin/guitar motifs that recall David Schwartz’ work on Deadwood. The music is widely spread and builds to boisterous, LFE-rattling crescendos during the more contemplative moments.

 Out of the Furnace

Extras


The brief extras include:
  • Inspiration[I] (3:30, HD) – A small sampling of interviews with the cast discussing the films and filmmakers that inspired their careers.
  • Scott Cooper (6:40, HD) – An interview with the director and a look at his process.
  • [I]Crafting the Fight Scenes (5:20, HD) – A look at the choreography and cinematography involved in the film’s fisticuff sequences.
  • The Music of Out of the Furnace (9:10, HD) – An interview with the director, the music supervisor, and composer on the score.
  • Trailer and trailers for other Fox releases


 Out of the Furnace

Overall


Had someone taken the time to cut Out of the Furnace to the bone, it probably could’ve worked as a grim revenge movie. Unfortunately, it’s a terminally self-serious movie, the kind that is too embarrassed by the grindhouse trappings of something like Rolling Thunder to fully embrace it. Too bad the filmmakers weren’t also embarrassed by banal plot points and character types. Fans do have a very good-looking disc to look forward to, along with a strong DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The extras are slim, but not without merit.

 Out of the Furnace

 Out of the Furnace

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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