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Sunday, December 8, 2013

GeekRex Quick Take: Out Of The Furnace

The Buzz: Despite the hype surround the upcoming film American Hustle, Christian Bale has been getting raves from the critical punditry for his performance here as Russell Baze, a man living in the economically depressed Rust Belt with his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck). After an unfortunate circumstance lands him in prison, Russell returns home to find his brother has been sucked into a northeastern crime ring and vanishes. Russell then begins to seek justice for his lost brother. Many are calling this the best work of Bale's impressive career. Director Scott Cooper is also a hot name, having just come off the critically loved Crazy Heart, which netted Jeff Bridges his first Best Actor win at the Academy Awards back in 2010. 

What's great about this movie: Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson are both turning in staggering work as the two opposing sides of this central conflict. Bale's ever present intensity is perfect here as a man who is battling the darkening of his own soul, as the chips continue to stack up against him after his return from prison. Just with a subtle glance, you can garner an entire character from Bale's essaying of the role. Harrelson is equally up to the task as the criminal ring-leader Curtis DeGroat, whom he portrays as a ball of uncontrollable chaos. From the opening scene, Harrelson is utterly terrifying and this creates a villain that is easy to root against, particularly as Bale's protagonist is one that the audience can sympathize with. The plot is your standard "pot-boiler"/revenge noir but transposed to a Blue Collar/Appalachian setting, which creates a unique take a well-worn genre. 

What's not so great about this movie: The Romantic triangle that is attempted between Russell, Lena (Zoe Saldana), and Officer Barnes (Forrest Whitaker) is a complete non-starter, and the time the audience spends with Russell and Lena as a couple never builds adequate sympathies towards their eventual plight. Additionally, the character of Officer Barnes seems to exist only to portray some element of law enforcement in this on-going investigation of Rodney's disappearance. There also is a bit of confusion thematically in the film's opening act, which seems to strive towards some social commentary about the on-going difficulties of Blue Collar class living in America, but it's only tangentially fleshed out and completely dropped by the time the revenge story takes hold. As a result, the film can feel a little overlong and possibly disjointed. 

Final Verdict: There's a lot to enjoy in Cooper's latest if you're a big fan of Christian Bale. On the other hand, there are a lot of better options available during awards season, particularly given the uneven thematic content. This is a "wait for Netflix/RedBox" recommendation.
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