Rodeny Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck) out-broods his older brother, Russell (Christian Bale) as he lifts his shirt to show off a chest-long tear from his tour in Iraq while screaming about a melting baby and the Carrie Furnace Mill. Bale’s character is possessed by the new American dream summoned by Obama, which is to change by not changing: find any job and work hard to pay of your family’s unfathomable debt.
Unfortunately, his little brother has taken on the Bushian logic to show pride and serve your country, no matter the cost or lack of income. The two ideologies mix as well as an alcoholic in denial being offered a free rum and arsenic and old lace. Rodney is always the one shot-gunning the swirled brew to find relief and Russell is holding his hair back so that Uncle Sam can have a better view of the ass-pounding he’s shelling out to the hoi polloi, or common man of Pennsylvania.
As the Deer Hunter showed the price of America after Vietnam, so does Out of the Furnace show the modern cost of believing any single thing the U.S. Government spoon-feeds to the babies of media. More jobs, healthcare and Jesus saving you are non-existent. Rodney and Russell’s father is immobile and dying on the couch. Career choices teeter between shoveling gravel, working at the mill, or taking up bare-knuckle boxing with lowly bookies at the local bar. This is America 2014.
As a director, Scott Cooper worked heart-tugging, original magic with Jeff Bridge’s Oscar-turn in Crazy Heart. However, his latest work leans far too heavily on the Deer Hunter until it clearly establishes the two roads each Baze sibling has chosen. Once paved, Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) grabs these modern American dupes by the throat and becomes the rapscallion of a lifetime as the all-powerful meth addicted, inbred Lord of the Appalachians. Nothing can bring him down once he gets his hands on the Baze family. Even the procedure that the local Sheriff (Forest Whitaker) must follow to find him only further inconveniences the innocent while, at the same time, empowering Harlan’s above-the-law trade. Watching Harrelson give slack-jawed threats about everything from hot-dogs to cars is scarier than an army of one, which is precisely the idiotic human-trafficking disguised as government service that the modern hopeless have become. It’s all a stunningly sharp metaphor that drags like a rusty nail against the limo of the 2%.
As a result, once the Deer Hunter training wheels come off, the audience is left with a wonderfully horrific ride. It’s all at once too honest to appreciate yet too personal not to step into.