The FILM IN WORDS Netflix Film of the Week: helping you navigate the filmic minefield of the nation’s favourite video streaming service.
Words: Brody Rossiter
INTO THE FIRE
For those without brothers or sisters it can be difficult to fully appreciate and understand the complex bond shared between siblings. Nevertheless, these intricate strands of genetic coding have resulted in some of fiction’s greatest stories; tales dripping with jealousy, revenge, and violence. However, more often than not, such fables delve beneath the prideful thick skins of brothers and sisters and tap into their great, though not always evident, love for one another. I am one such uneducated individual when it comes to sibling rivalries and sentimentality. Books, movies, friends, and family have taught me what such a bond means, and from what I can gather, emotionally convoluted seems like an accurate summation. From the non-existent to the co-dependant, siblings rarely walk paths adjacent to one another, and their journeys through adulthood – though they may often intersect – rarely pass the same landmarks.
Out of the Furnace places the connection between brothers Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) at the forefront of its earthy, workingman narrative. Rodney is currently in a state of stop-loss from the U.S. Military and has returned home to North Braddock, Pennsylvania; a town resting in the shadow of a steel mill through which it survives, and thanks to exported Chinese labour, will eventually die. Rodney drinks and gambles his days away, while older brother Russell toils through the long hours and intense heat of the mill. Some increasingly poor life choices on the part of Rodney – primarily competing in bare knuckle boxing fights – facilitated by local fixer John Petty (Willem Dafoe), find him indebted to a brutal, backwater country bumpkin – effortlessly portrayed by Woody Harrelson – with a fondness for cooking crystal in his kitchen. When Rodney goes missing deep in the lawless country where police have little power, Russell must go to extreme lengths to bring his baby brother home.
Inarticulacy is a driving force throughout the picture. When this inarticulacy extends to the brothers’ emotional fragility and shortcomings – Rodney the tortured Afghanistan veteran and Russell plagued by demons closer to home – the narrative is at its most fervent and stirring. The emotional potency collapsing like forlorn waves snatching fleeting glimpses of hope and beauty away from the pair amidst their otherwise harsh lives. Christian Bale’s romantic interactions with Zoë Saldana are particularly potent and transcendent. At its finest Out of the Furnace feels like the spiritual successor to Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, however when that inarticulacy begins to stray into the brothers levels of intelligence the film falters. A primary criticism of the picture upon release was stereotypical depictions of rural folk – and deservedly so. For every great moment on the part of the ensemble cast there are also many jarring moonshine slurping slides into backwoods caricature. Unfortunately, Bale is most responsible for such instances – despite also delivering swathes of incredibly poignant content throughout his performance.
Had Out of the Furnace been released thirty years ago, and allowed the freedom to feel its way through a three-hour run-time, perhaps it would stand as a true American classic possessing both toughness and grace. Ultimately, that’s not the case. It’s rushed and often overly reliant upon rehashed and unflattering characterisation – squandering an incredibly stacked and decorated cast in the process. That being said, it also possesses a collection of agonisingly moving scenes – especially when it comes to a more grandiose and classical style of drama filmmaking – that should not be forgotten so quickly. Out of the Furnace is by no means perfect, but neither are the relationships between brothers and sisters, and one way or another they still find a way to work.