Scott Cooper made his directorial debut with Crazy Heart (2009), a film that won Jeff Bridges an Oscar for Best Actor. For his sophomore effort Out of the Furnace (2013), Cooper once again manages to get the very best from his star-studded cast, but whilst there is admiration to be taken for foregoing a traditional revenge story, the well-intentioned narrative is sadly short on momentum.
Set in small-town Pennsylvania, Out of the Furnace centres on Russell Baze (Christian Bale), a virtuous blue-collar man who takes care of his dying Father and looks out for his little brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), an Iraq war veteran. An untimely accident sees Russell go to jail, and he returns to a girlfriend who’s moved on and a Father who has passed away. Worse still, his younger sibling has fallen into the world of bare-knuckle fighting in a bid to pay off his gambling debts. On the hunt for more lucrative bouts, Rodney begs bookie John Petty (Willem Dafoe) to set up a fight in the backwoods of New Jersey run by psychotic hillbilly Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). When they don’t return and the police prove reluctant to get involved, Russell takes matters into his own hands.
There is something innately relatable about family dysfunction. Whether you’re part of a tight knit brood or only meet up for holidays, disagreements are inevitable. Sometimes those encounters are flippant, and other times they can be decidedly more hurtful. An adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer and Tony-Prize winning play, August: Osage County is very much of the latter variety. Though it’s not helped by John Wells’ workmanlike direction, the razor sharp dialogue combined with supreme acting prove just enough to compensate.