Out of the ‘Rejected Scripts’ Pile
Out of the Furnace is like a Springsteen wannabe that does a lot of singin’ about broken down veterans and boarded up factories, but never quite finds the chorus. It’s a “downtrodden” piece so slapdash that all the brooding feels unearned, full of “dramatic” monologues more likely to evoke dismissive wanking than tears. Authentic dour is one thing, but derivative dour always feels like the worst kind of fashionable phony baloney bullshit. Furnace’s wallowing in the well-traveled world of blue-collar rust belt masculinity is so sloppily rendered that it feels like tourism, like it was written by someone who heard about it in some Bon Jovar Mellencamp medley, working class poverty pimped out to sell flannel.
That’s not to say writers Scott Cooper and Brad Inglesby don’t know the world they’re writing, it’s just that their story doesn’t really track. So when all the pretty actors stand around looking sad, the writing isn’t good enough for us to understand why, and it kind of just feels like they’re doing it because it looks cinematic. Stand back, everyone! Christian’s about to stare wistfully into a sunset again!
Christian Bale plays Russell Baze, a tattooed Mcbeardy from Braddock, Pennsylvania. He works in the same steel mill that his dying daddy worked for. Working for his woman (Zoe Saldana), he brings home his pay. So tough, so tough. His brother Casey Affleck, an unemployed ex-Army grunt, likes to gamble with money he borrows from gangsters, though before long he gets stop-lossed back into another tour in Iraq. He’s bitter about it, but Christian, the good brother, says they’ve gotta hold on, to what they’ve got. They’ve got each other, and that’s a lot. It doesn’t make a difference if they make it or not.
Ooh yeah, they say life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.
One day, while driving home in his beat up pick-up truck (of course), after paying off one of his jackass, ne’er-do-well brother’s debts, Bale/Baze has an accident that lands him in prison† (slightly spoilery explanation in footnote). Problem is, reasons he might go to jail for this accident aren’t well enough explained, so it sort of just feels like fashionable melancholy, something that happens just because. “And now this guy has to suffer for some reason. Maybe drunk driving? Who cares, f*ck you!”
A story that tracks makes you believe. One that doesn’t asks you to make excuses for it.
Once Christian Bale gets out of prison, he returns home to find his woman dunt run off and his kid brother mixed up in some kind of underground shirtless slap fighting league that operates out of spark factories. Casey Affleck comes home one day with his face all busted up after taking a wicked beating from a black guy. “What were you doing?” Bale asks him.
“I was out with friends,” Affleck says.
“Your friends play rough,” Bale says.
Then later, Bale finds Affleck’s bloody knuckle wraps in the trash and confronts him about his fighting. Because apparently, the coming-home-with-a-face-full-of-black-eyes thing wasn’t already enough of a tip off vis a vis fighting. Not exactly quick on the uptake, this guy.