In the future when dictionaries have been replaced by computerized data banks surgically implanted in our fingertips the entry for “bleak” will be excerpts from “Out of the Furnace.”
Christian Bale stars as Russell Baze, a steel mill worker in America’s economically depressed Rust Belt. After doing time for vehicular manslaughter he emerges from jail to find his live-in girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) no longer lives in and his Iraq war vet brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) having trouble with civilian life.
Rodney is a tough guy. How tough? “Four tours in Iraq tough,” says John Petty (Willem Dafoe), a low level gangster who also acts as Rodney’s manager in the bare- knuckle fight game.
As Russell tries to rebuild his life he is pushed to extremes when Rodney gets mixed up with Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), a vicious hillbilly meth dealer who is so backwoods he drinks moonshine out of a mason jar. After someone asks him, “Do you have a problem with me?” he replies, “I got a problem with everybody.”
When Rodney goes missing after a fight run by DeGroat, Russell takes the law into his own hands to exact some vigilante justice.
The vengeance angle sounds Batmanesque but there isn’t a cowl or a cape in sight in “Out of the Furnace.” Instead this is a deliberately paced family drama that spends most of its running time setting up the circumstances that lead to the revenge angle.
“Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper packs more bleakness in here than the most mournful George Jones song. Bad things happen to good people, hearts break and innocence is thrown out with the trash. It’s a portrait of a hard life drawn in hard edged detail, with no relief for the characters or for us.
Bale and Affleck are believable as brothers and hand in suitably intense performances but Harrelson is the most memorable character. Is there a better scuzzball in mainstream movies than Woody? He’s a menacing presence, twitchy and unpredictable with the worst teeth this side of the Appalachians.
Cooper hangs these fine performances on a framework so grim it’s hard to see what the point of the film is other than making audiences want to open a vein as the final credits roll. For all its pluses—the depiction of the treatment of soldiers coming home from war mixed with its take on family love and loyalty—and its singularity of director Cooper’s uncompromising vision, “Out of the Furnace” is so focused on the dark you almost want to play it in reverse. Like the old joke goes: What do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your house back, get your wife back…
The intense actor, who became a superstar playing Batman, makes chancy career choices on purpose.
“I like to think that as long as you continue choosing diverse roles, you can avoid becoming predictable,” he says.
He could make a life (and a fortune) playing square-jawed superheroes in action movies, but instead chooses to shake things up. Since his breakthrough performance in 1987’s Empire of the Sun he has been a chameleon, losing sixty pounds to play the skeletal lead in The Machinist and gaining a beer gut and a comb over for an upcoming role in American Hustle.
This weekend in Out of the Furnace he changes it up once again. He stars as a steel mill worker pushed to extremes when his Iraq war veteran brother (Casey Affleck) gets mixed up with the wrong people and disappears.
The vengeance angle sounds Batmanesque but Out of the Furnace is set far away from Gotham in the economically-depressed Rust Belt but there isn’t a cowl or a cape in sight and Bale has once again physically transformed himself.
Here’s a look at how Bale physically changes it up for his movie roles.
Creating the “Olympian physique” of serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho took some discipline. “I’m English,” he said, “and in England, we don’t have many gyms around. We’d rather go to a pub instead.” A trainer and a protein diet took off the pounds.
As boxer and former drug addict Dicky Ecklund in The Fighter he dropped thirty pounds and used make-up and prosthetics to age himself. How did he lose the weight? “Usually I always say, ‘Oh, I do a lot of coke whenever I lose weight.’ I’m not sure if it’s so funny for this movie, to say that.” In reality he trained with the real-life Ecklund and boxed the pounds off.
In Velvet Goldmine he plays a London journalist looking into the life and faked death of glam rock singer Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Once again he had to physically transform, but not in the traditional way.
When his mom saw that he was working out and running at 6 am she said, “Christian, what are you doing? You’re doing a film about sex drugs and rock and roll. Why don’t you do it the way they did it? They weren’t out running. They drank a helluva lot and lived unhealthily.”