Out of the Furnace (2013)

Out of the FurnaceReleased: December 6, 2013. Directed by: Scott Cooper. Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana. Runtime: 116 min.

“Out of the Furnace” starts around the same time frame as last year’s “Killing Them Softly,” which also came out around the same time. The time frame is 2008, before Barack Obama is elected – but during his campaign. They both involve mafia types, but this one focuses more on fight club aspects and debt politics within the mafia because of the economy crash. Though, it’s a bit more subtle – and were just a few vibes I picked up. The time frame isn’t as clear, either, because it starts out when Obama is campaigning, but seems to continue sometime during 2009 or 2010.

The plot follows Russell (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck) who live in the industry town of North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Rodney isn’t enjoying his life very much in this town, and while Russell is getting by, he crashes into the back of a woman’s car killing her and her son, and finds himself in prison. Once he gets out of prison (which I’d estimate is about eighteen months later?), Rodney has found himself deep in dangerous fight clubs. Once he’s released, he must choose between his own freedom or saving his brother.

This is a film about brotherhood, and what one might do for their sibling. I think the bond displayed between the two brothers is great. Rodney is willing to change and work for a living in the steel mill. Before he was in Iraq for four tours, and when he came back, he seemed shaken up from it. He just isn’t cut out for that sort-of life like his brother is, and he is a character that will appeal to many. He is performed well by Casey Affleck. Christian Bale is really good as Russell, as well, a character who is full of mercy on some things, but not on others – and has to make some difficult choices throughout. I thought he was a great character who represents protective older siblings everywhere.

The film, to me, is about brotherhood and how certain events in one’s life can change a person. It seems that Rodney is affected by both his mother’s death as an infant and his tours in Iraq – while Russell faced hardships like prison. I think “Furnace” in the title refers to those hardships, and you must overcome them. It’s also a film about justice and finding it, and that’s the second part of the film mostly.

It gets to it slowly but surely, so it makes me consider this a slow-boiling and intense drama. It seems to me a lot of films set in an industrial town are good, but have slow pacing. Anyway, John Petty (Willem Dafoe) is high up in the fighting rings in North Braddock, and the one to introduce Rodney to them. He also introduces him to Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is a ruthless man high up in the fighting ring in his land, and he seems a bit more threatening with a lollipop in his mouth, something Rodney comments on jokingly. But DeGroat proves he should not be screwed with, as shown in the opening scene where he forcibly makes a woman deepthroat a hot dog (the food…). It expresses his cruelty, where he then proceeds to physically assault an onlooker who attempts to intervene, causing quite the scene at a local drive-in. DeGroat is a good antagonist, and this just reminds everyone of how great of a character actor Harrelson has the ability to consistently be.

This is better than one’s average crime thriller because it’s actually realistic and people receive consequences for their actions. It’s also more thought-provoking and has some compelling character depth, something I wasn’t expecting. The ending is good, and it leaves it up to the viewer to decide how they’d like it to end – morbidly or happily. I’m still deciding how I would have liked things conclude for the characters. It’s a good film and I may re-visit it in the future.

Score: 75/100

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The Last Stand (2013)

The Last StandThe Last Stand

Release Date: January 18, 2012

Director: Jee-won Kim

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville

Runtime: 107 min

Tagline: Retirement is for sissies

The most notorious, wanted drug kingpin in the Western hemisphere escapes a prisoner transfer and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a town sheriff (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his inexperienced staff.

Director Jee-won Kim makes his American film debut with The Last Stand, Schwarzenegger’s comeback vehicle. This film does a lot of things right, like its simplistic plot, and a few things wrong, like its characterization and storytelling that has room for improvement.

Firstly, the main problem with the film is the characterization. For a fun action flick, it does admirably attempt to develop the characters, but it’s not easy to care for them thoroughly. Jerry (Zach Gilford) is developed as a young rookie Deputy trying to make it to the big city as he is slightly bored; the Sheriff, Ray Owens, is developed as a former narcotics officer who wanted to take it easy with a small-time Sheriff position; Sarah (Jaimie Alexander) and Frank (Rodrigo Santoro) are established as ex-girlfriend and boyfriend; and Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) is established as a Weapon Museum owner that’s open every second Thursday of each month from 12 P.M. to 3 P.M.; and that’s all the attempt at development, really. Everyone else is established as roles really; angry FBI agent (Forest Whitaker’s John Bannister), damsel in distress (Genesis Rodriguez’ Ellen Richards), insane criminal (Eduardo Noriega’s Gabriel Cortez) and the main deputy (Luis Guzmán’s Mike Figuerola). I didn’t care for all the characters, and the ones I did care for slightly was because they were such good presences (mostly just the Sheriff, Guzmán’s Mike and Knoxville’s Lewis Dinkum.

The other problem with the film is just a little hole in the storytelling. It was probably established that Gabriel Cortez is a ruthless drug kingpin, but if it was, it immediately went out of mind. He just seemed like a criminal everyone is imtimidated by for some reason or a criminal who has a lot of money and is driving a really fast Corvette ZR1.

One must keep in mind, however, that this is mostly just a fun action flick, and the attempt at the character development is just a bonus.

Now, for the question on everyone’s mind: is this a worthy comeback flick for Arnie? Yes, yes it is, with nods to earlier Schwarzenegger that make for funny lines. Arnie, now 65, may comment on how old he is, but he proves he is still capable with a gun and can be in a real fight-to-the-death wrestling match that’s even better than Stallone vs. Van Damme in The Expendables 2. He also can put up a better fight than a SWAT team or multiple road blocks, just because nothing’s more threatening than a body builder. As a guy standing on his own, Ray Owens is a fairly memorable action hero to be added to Arnie’s filmography. However, put him beside the show-stealing Knoxville, he is forgettable. We forget about Knoxville’s Dinkum until he comes back for the last 50 minutes, where he gets the biggest laughs of the feature (besides a rifle-wielding granny who comes out of nowhere). He has finally found a role where his maniacal laughter and crazy comedy works absolute wonders. Oh, and he [Knoxville] and Guzmán make a pretty stellar team, because at some points in the film they’re both confused by what the time period is (examples: swords and shields – Medieval Times; and a Tommy Gun – 1940s gangster era).

The fine pacing all leads up to an extremely fun shoot-out that lasts a fairly appropriate amount of time. If your stomach can handle all the blood, it’s even more fun. That’s what this film offers: bloody violence, a few big laughs, somewhat poorly formed characters, an effectively simplistic plot, and a few nice cars being traditionally wrecked. If that’s your idea of a good time, check out Arnie’s return to the big screen.

80/100

Did you know? This is Schwarzenegger’s first leading role since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.