Monday Movies: Out of the Furnace

Scott Cooper delivers surprising character-driven drama

Broken Dreams

Set in a Braddock, Pennsylvania, a hardscrabble town whose economic engine is a dying steel mill, Out of the Furnace is an unrelentingly bleak portrait of tough men whose blue collar lives are unraveling with a slow and harsh inevitability. At the centre of the film are the two Baze brothers: Russell (Christian Bale), the older and more responsible one, works in the mill just like his dad did; Rodney (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone) was born reckless, and four brutal tours in Iraq have left him with bad dreams and a bad attitude.

With gambling debts to pay off Rodney has taken up illegal bare-knuckle boxing for a local hustler (Willem Dafoe), but he keeps getting deeper into debt because he can never play along and “lose” the fights he’s told to. Increasingly desperate, he heads north into hillbilly country for a bigger payday, only to find himself on the wrong side of Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), a drug-dealing, mean-as-a-snake degenerate. When Rodney doesn’t come home it’s clear that something bad has happened, but Braddock’s sheriff (Forest Whitaker) doesn’t have jurisdiction and his law enforcement counterparts upstate seem reluctant to start a feud with a valley full of vicious inbreds. Which leaves Russell and his uncle (Sam Shephard) to grab their deer rifles and see if they can set things right.

Although this sounds like the setup for a standard-issue Stallone or Schwarzenegger revenge flick, this is primarily a character-driven drama and the plot takes the audience where it isn’t really expecting to go. Slow-paced and elegiacal, Furnace spends a lot of its time showing the cost to human lives as hard times lead to hard choices. The movie lacks a bit of focus, but there are so many great performances that you likely may not notice (or care). Bale has become a multi-millionaire mumbling his way through the Batman trilogy, but he brings heartbreaking clarity to his work here as a hardworking and decent man who is slowly losing everything. Affleck plays a reckless jerk with crazed bravado, and does a great job representing every war vet who has come back from Iraq with a head full of spiders. And then there’s Harrelson, cruel and repulsive and predatory, who is like a one-man horror movie.

This was written and directed by Scott Cooper, whose Crazy Heart helped get Jeff Bridges that overdue Oscar in a great role as a faded country singer. He’s ambitious here, and he over-reaches with his themes of masculinity, violence, and what’s wrong with America. But much like The Deer Hunter did during the Vietnam era, this portrays the little-seen world of the working class, far away from yuppie distractions of Starbucks and the suburbs. Furnace may lack profundity, but it has a solemn, inescapable weight that is never less than convincing: this is mill town U.S.A., and when hope is gone the results are ugly indeed.

Rating: ***1/2

(Out of the Furnace continues at SilverCity)

PERFECTLY POTABLE:

You’re probably going to want something strong after a film this bleak, so let’s open a bottle of Jim Beam and toast the virtues of American bourbon. Appealingly smooth and sweet, with distinct notes of caramel and vanilla alongside floral hints, this classic bottling is an interesting mix of corn mash and rye whiskey. And with Jack Daniel’s now costing a few bucks north of $30, Beam’s price tag of $26 is looking pretty darn good.

Listings

Film OPENING

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES -(SilverCity/Westshore) The comedic adventures of delusional, sexist, and highly self-regarding newsman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) move from 1970s San Diego to the advent of cable news in 1980s New York. The great cast includes Harrison Ford, Paul Rudd, Vince Vaughn, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kristen Wiig, and Christina Applegate.

AMERICAN HUSTLE -(Odeon/SilverCity) Just in time for Christmas, David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) delivers a screwball crime dramedy, loosely based on the 1970s Abscam scandal, when an FBI sting ensnared a bunch of congressman on corruption charges. The great cast includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence.

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS -(SilverCity/Westshore) Visit the Earth of 70 million years ago for this tale of an underdog dinosaur who somehow manages to become the hero that saves the day.

SAVING MR. BANKS -(Odeon/Westshore/Landmark Uni 4) Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson star in this true-life tale of the struggle Walt Disney had to convince the uptight English author of Mary Poppins to allow him to make her beloved children’s book into a movie.

WHITE CHRISTMAS -(Roxy) Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye ad Rosemary Clooney in this classic – and very tuneful – 1954 movie about the efforts of a song-and-dance team to save a failing Vermont inn. Note: closed Dec. 25.

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS -(Roxy) Jim Carrey gives an annoyingly over-the-top performance in Ron Howard’s rather over-stuffed adaptation of the classic Dr. Seuss tale. Note: closed Dec. 25.

★★★★ INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS -(Odeon) The Coen Brothers give a deliciously bleak present to cinema fans with this tale of an embittered folksinger struggling to carve out a career in 1961 Greenwich Village. Starring Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan.  Opens Dec. 25.

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM -(Odeon) The great Idris Elba (Thor, The Wire) stars in this much-praised biopic depicting the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela: his struggles as a freedom fighter, 27 years of imprisonment, and his gradual transformation into a globally revered statesman.

47 RONIN -(SilverCity/Westshore) Keanu Reeves heads up what promises to be a truly epic martial arts extravaganza as 47 samurai fight supernatural forces and mythic beasts in order to kill the ruthless shogun who murdered their master. Opens Dec. 25.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET -(Odeon/SilverCity/Landmark Uni 4) Revered director Martin Scorsese reunites with Leonardo DiCaprio for this true-life tale of Jordan Belfort, a sleazy Wall Street stockbroker at the centre of a massive financial scandal in the 1990s. With Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, and Jon Favreau. Opens Dec. 25.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY -(Odeon/SilverCity) Ben Stiller directs himself in this elaborate adaptation of the famed short story by James Thurber about a daydreaming dweeb who becomes a hero in his own imagination. With Sean Penn, Kristen Wiig, and Shirley MacLaine. Opens Dec. 25.

GRUDGE MATCH -(SilverCity/Westshore) The once-great Robert De Niro goes toe-to-toe with Sylvester Stallone in a comedy about a pair of over-the-hill boxing rivals who get coaxed out or retirement to fight a final bout – 30 years after their last match. Opens Dec. 25

CONTINUING

★★½ ABOUT TIME -(Caprice) Writer-director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill) delivers a rather flabby romantic comedy about a young man who knows how to time travel. When he decides to use this power to do something about his nonexistent love life, things become more complicated than he imagined. With the great Bill Nighy, and Rachel McAdams as the heart throb.

★★½ THE BOOK THIEF -(Odeon) A young girl endures the torments of Germany in the Second World War, and helps her adoptive parents hide a Jewish refugee in their home. Featuring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. Based on a young-adult novel, this is a well-acted drama but its “celebration of the human spirit” tone is earnest and a bit sugary. Leaves the Odeon on Dec. 24.

★★★★ CAPTAIN PHILLIPS -(SilverCity) Talented director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy) tells the true tale of a ship captain (Tom Hanks) whose boat is captured by Somali pirates. Tense but also thoughtful, this is a thriller with a brain.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 -(Caprice) The wacky animated comedy about an infamous machine that churns out scary food-animal hybrids was popular enough to merit a sequel. Consider yourself warned! With the vocal talents of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and Will Forte.

DELIVERY MAN -(Caprice) Gifted funnyman Vince Vaughn plays an amiable slacker who finds his life changing when, due to a mixup at a fertility clinic where he was a sperm donor 20 years ago, he’s  now the proud father of 533 kids. Yikes!

★★½ DESPICABLE ME 2 -(Caprice) The 2010 original, about a loathsome criminal mastermind who was reformed by the love of three young orphan girls, was a goofy delight. The sequel, although still clever, is much more scattershot, with an unimaginative plot and unwelcome dashes of mean spiritedness. Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, and Russell Brand supply the voices.

★★½ ENDER’S GAME -(SilverCity/Caprice) Yet another book series for teens comes to the big screen, this time featuring a young boy with exceptional powers who is cultivated as a military leader destined to save the Earth from a deadly alien attack. With Harrison Ford.

FROZEN -(SilverCity/Westshore)  As a prelude to winter comes this appealing Disney animated tale about a brave woman who sets out to rescue a kingdom trapped in eternal winter. Some of the other characters include a goofy snowman and his reindeer buddy. Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen.

★★★½ GRAVITY -(SilverCity/Caprice) Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a harrowing, brilliantly-executed thriller about two astronauts aboard a space station who survive an accident only to find themselves drifting helplessly through space, with little hope of rescue or survival.

★★★ THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG -(Odeon/SilverCity/Landmark Uni 4/Westshore) Peter Jackson delivers three hours of fast-paced entertainment in this exciting, combat-filled and often funny account of Bilbo, Gandalf, and a bevy of bearded dwarves as they confront that terrifying, gold-hoarding dragon named Smaug (voiced by the suddenly ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch).

★★½ HOMEFRONT -(SilverCity/Westshore) A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet little town, only to find himself in conflict with a local meth drug lord. Starring Jason Statham, James Franco, and Winona Ryder. See review.

★★½ THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE -(Odeon/SilverCity) In the middle movie of this dystopic future-world trilogy for teens, the oddly-named Katniss Everdeen (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence) gets caught up in some deadly schemings after a rebellion outrages Panem’s despotic ruler (Donald Sutherland). This is predictable stuff, but boy is it popular! Leaves the Odeon on Dec. 24.

★★ LAST VEGAS -(Caprice) Four sixty-something pals head to Las Vegas for a last, very predictable, hurrah. The geriatric laughs are generated by Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline.

★★½ LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER -(Caprice) Forest Whitaker heads up an amazing cast in a true story about a black butler at the White House whose long tenure there overlapped with the long struggle of the American civil rights movement. Costarring Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Lenny Kravitz, and Oprah Winfrey. Although a bit ponderous and unimaginative, this is still a fine history lesson.

★★★½ NEBRASKA -(Odeon) The great director Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, The Descendants) is back on the road with an alcoholic old man sliding towards senility. Starring Bruce Dern (who won at Cannes this year and is tipped for an Oscar nomination) and SNL’s Will Forte. This well-made film, handsomely shot in black and white, is poignant and surprisingly funny. See review in the monthly Monday Magazine. Leaves the Odeon on Dec. 24.

★★½ OLDBOY -(Odeon) Spike Lee directs a heavy-handed remake of a hyper-violent cult film by Korean director Chan-wook Park. The story features a man seeking vengeance after he was mysteriously kidnapped and kept locked up for 20 years. Starring Josh Brolin, who acts with all the depth of a clenched fist. With Elizabeth Olsen, and Samuel L. Jackson.

★★★½ PHILOMENA -(Odeon/Landmark Cinema 4) Oscar-nomination speculation is already swirling around Judi Dench for her performance as a woman who was forced to give up her out-of-wedlock child 50 years ago and is now determined to track him down. This surprisingly funny dramedy co-stars Steve Coogan and is directed by the great Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen). Leaves the Odeon on Dec. 24.

★★½ THOR: THE DARK WORLD -(SilverCity/Caprice) That hunky son of Odin grabs his hammer and does some hurtin’ as both the Earth and Asgard are confronted with a terrifying and seemingly unstoppable enemy. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, and Idris Elba. Leaves SilverCity on Dec. 24.

★★★★ 12 YEARS A SLAVE -(Caprice) Nothing but raves have greeted this harrowing, true-life tale of a free black man in 1840s America who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Brad Pitt.

IMAX

NOTE: -IMAX is closed Wed., Dec. 25.

FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES -(7 pm, Sun.-Mon., Thurs.)

★★★ HIDDEN UNIVERSE -(10 am, 2 pm, 5 pm: Fri.. & Thurs.; 2 pm, 5 pm: Sat.-Tues.) Travel to the farthest reaches of the visible universe courtesy of the world’s most amazing telescopes.

KENYA: ANIMAL KINGDOM -(1 pm, Fri.-Tues. & Thurs.)

★★½ POLAR EXPRESS -(6 pm: Fri.; 10 am, 6 pm: Sat. & Tues.; 10 am, 7 pm, Sun.-Mon.; 7 pm, Thurs.) Although far from a train wreck, this photo-realist animation extravaganza about a boy who no longer believes in Santa Claus is uneven. Starring various versions of Tom Hanks.

★★★★ ROLLING STONES: AT THE MAX -(Fri.-Sat. 8 pm) The bad boys of rock, literally much larger than life (and only semi-old!).

★★★ SPACE JUNK -(11 am, 3 pm: Fri. & Thurs.; 3 pm, Sat.-Tues.) Hundreds of tons of junk are orbiting above the planet, and this fascinating doc tells you why you need to know about it.

TITANS OF THE ICE AGE -(noon, 4 pm: Fri.-Tues., & Thurs.)

SCREENINGS

MOVIE MONDAY – screens Intouchables. This funny and heart-warming – and hugely popular! – French film features a wealthy aristocrat, a quadriplegic after a hang-gliding accident, who gets more than he bargained for when he hires a rough-edged black man from the projects to be his care aid. Based on a true story.  6:30 pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.

CINECENTA

Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365. cinecenta.com. NOTE: Cinecenta is closed from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2.

★★★★★ IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE -(Fri.-Sat., Dec. 20-21: 7:00 only) The real countdown to Christmas begins with Cinecenta’s screening of this revered Capra classic, where Jimmy Stewart’s Everyman embodies the true spirit of the season.

THE VIC THEATRE

The Vic Theatre is located at 808 Douglas Street. Info: thevic.ca NOTE: Closed from Dec. 23-26.

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL -(Fri., Dec. 20: 7:00) Aside from Pythonite madness there will be beer, Wii fencing, and a costume contest.

LETHAL WEAPON -(Sat., Dec. 21: 7:00) As well as the banter between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover this licensed screening includes a costume contest and Nerf target practice.

DIE HARD -(Sat., Dec. 21: 9:00) They don’t come much more classic than this Bruce Willis against-all-odds action thriller. This licensed screening includes a costume contest and Nerf target practice.

CARTOON CHRISTMAS -(Sun., Dec. 22: 3:00) The Grinch will be making a guest appearance at this family-friendly cartoon fest. Free hot chocolate!

HOME ALONE -(Sun., Dec. 22: 7:00) Wear your most comfy pair of PJs and scarf down free pizza while watching Macaulay Culkin do terrible things to inept burglars!

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