Uncomfortable and fleshy violence is Out of the Furnace’s artistic hallmark, an ample revenge story with brooding character embellishment prior to its certain eventuality. Harlan DeGroat is too despicable for cinema to leave him be.
DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) opens Furnace abusively as he assaults a women and nearly kills another drive-in movie patron. This outskirt of Pittsburgh contemplates few reprimands. DeGroat’s vile penchant for abuse, tobacco spitting, and heroin injecting habits ensure his lopsided domain remains in his favor.
North Braddock, a more timid and floundering suburb, is distinctively quaint despite economic upheaval. Brothers Russell and Rodney Blaze (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck respectively) bring forth an American dignity: Russell works in steel, Rodney is a multi-tour Marine. Despite uncertainty, Furnace capably displays stable grounding until pressures mount.
Bale remains in lead, an unassumingly quiet and passive watcher. Home upkeep and relationships tear this “hero” from the usual revenge branding. Even in violence, Russell’s backlash is without cruelty.
Character dynamics provide glimpses of normalcy and clashing outhouse politics, although Harrelson brings a degree of mental instability to DeGroat. He becomes more than outlandish caricature in his backwoods thinking and underground fight ring management. The same for Russell who serves time and mends relationships with a certain civility until family becomes essential, an evolving middle aged man whose mistakes build his demeanor.
Furnance’s pay-off is ignited in the final half hour, director Scott Cooper’s work completed with considered patience. Despite jarring jump cuts to excise unnecessary clarification, scripting and editing are sharply finished. Furnace inhales deeply before allowing the relief of an exhale. Character definition builds a rivalry despite a half day drive separating them, with an internally suffering Rodney acting as a link.
There are moments where familiarity is massaged, even to an extreme. Rodney’s recounting of his military experiences are horrifically graphic to a point of unreality. Meant to better instill his obsession with unsanctioned, bare knuckle fisticuffs, this character insistence feels overstated for shock value.
Despite some scripting roughhousing, Furnace is contemporary in its story of outmoded manliness where authority figures and legal processes are ignored for more direct methodologies. Some channeling of vintage revenge exploitation is evident even without casual bloodshed and sharper drawn narrative lines to eventual victims. Furnace is unsettling with modern approaches to brutality, saving it for the betterment of audience reactions. Letting action breathe naturally within the film’s composure is a marvelous decision. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Opening on a drive in showing Midnight Meat Train, these darkened scenes seem to be mirroring the movie within a movie. Grain structure is fiercely heightened to levels resembling 16mm, and this scene could be shot on lower grade stock. Afterward, imagery settles into traditional 35mm scale where Fox’s encode can work through an average grain structure without bumping into compression flubs.
Furnace is otherwise gifted with fidelity and close-ups singed with impressively broad detail. Outside of focal considerations which can veer recklessly into softness, cinematography creates premium imagery for this Blu-ray to absorb. Faults are consistently linked to the source.
Color grading adds an escalator of color, mowing through orange’s warmth and teal’s chill. Flesh tones are scene dependent – interior or exteriors each varying to suit moods. Primaries are quelled from their fullest reach, dampened to keep Furnace with a morose tone.
Aggressiveness also dies with black levels which drift into matured browns to add some age to the film stock. Light sources are heavy in comparison, with sunlight blooming through windows. Fading is integral and while depth fails to absorb onto the images, they still have their weight in context. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Out of the Furnace creates a small town audioscape, captured by factory noise and mild street traffic. A city exists here even in its rotting collapse and the part of capturing this tattered economy falls to the DTS-HD mix. Outlying areas match the envelopment with wildlife calls. Illegal fights are surrounded by those with financial interests, calling out from a full 360 degree soundfield.
These quaint sonic touches allow bullets to create a piercing effect when fired, sharp with minimal LFE to exaggerate. Each shot matters given their rare use. These spikes maintain volume integrity and still manage to deliver a jolt. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
Bonuses are understated and certainly brief, beginning with Inspiration as main cast members discuss their influences and career decisions. A featurette on director Scott Cooper is predictable praise while Crafting the Fight Scenes details stunts and choreography. A nine minute look at the sometimes twangy score is the deepest offering here, coming up before the routine selections of trailers. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.