BRADDOCK, PA — Casey Affleck is ready for a fight.
In Scott Cooper’s upcoming “Out of the Furnace,” not only does he have to hold his own against the rest of the film’s all-star cast which includes Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker and Willem Dafoe, he has to suffer numerous beatings — both physical and emotional — while dealing with the sustained trauma of being a combat veteran.
The highly-anticipated thriller offers up the Affleck’s intense dark side, previously on display in 2007’s one-two punch of “Gone Baby Gone” (directed by his brother Ben Affleck) and the epic “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
In “Furnace,” Affleck plays Rodney Baze, an Iraq war veteran trying to survive in his hometown of Braddock, PA, an economically depressed city once home to a great steel mill. To make ends meet, Rodney first turns to bare-knuckle fighting, before descending deeper into a life of crime. This all comes as a shock to his overprotective older brother Russell (Bale), who’s just been released from prison and is trying to out his life back together.
Affleck spoke to me and several other journalists on the film’s cold and dreary set, but he (along with Cooper and the rest of the cast) were tight-lipped about the story. Instead, he opened up a bit about his character.
After experiencing war firsthand and living in the shadow of his ex-con brother, Rodney is having a tough time readjusting to normal life, to say the least. After taking part in the culture of underground fighting (the film’s trailer finds him in brutal “Fight Club” mode), Rodney descends further and further into the word of crime, centering around a malicious local criminal played by Harrelson.
“On the one hand, he doesn’t have a job,” Affleck said of Rodney. “A lot of these guys return from Iraq and they can’t find work. They’ve been trained and educated in many ways and then they come home and they’re delivering pizza. On the other hand, he’s having to deal with very serious and very common PTSD. He’s done three tours of Iraq and he’s seen a lot of horrible things. It’s hard to relate to other people, and it’s hard to sleep at night. The fighting is an outlet for some of that pent-up aggression and also a way to make money.”
Affleck also noted the film’s Rust Belt setting, a region not often depicted in Hollywood films. Native Pittsburghers have a distinct accent, one that acts as the intersection of Southern drawl, upper Midwest twang and Northeastern pronunciations. Depicting the accent on film was somewhat of a trial.
“We talked early about whether anyone should have the accent that people talk with here and we decided not to, because it’s so strange that it would sound inconsistent, strange, almost Southern,” he told us. “People would say ‘why do these characters have these f*cking weird Southern accents when they’re obviously in some industrial Northern city?’ But then it was decided that we’d try to embrace it regardless of how odd it would be to other people’s ears.”
“It’s similar to Boston [Affleck’s hometown] in certain ways, places that have to ride the tides of industries coming and going,” Affleck added. “In part, that’s what the movie is about, although I wouldn’t say it’s about any one thing. It’s certainly about class, and the economy and my character brings themes of returning vets and some of those ideas.”
In addition to “Furnace,” Affleck’s 2013 also consists of the already-released indie “Aint’s Them Bodies Saints,” and Paul Haggis’ upcoming “The Third Person,” co-starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde and Liam Neeson.
“Furnace,” however, looks to be the best showcase for Affleck’s talents, and there is significant award season buzz around his performance in the film.
“Out of the Furnace” opens December 6.