Writer/director Scott Cooper’s flawed but potent thriller about the “Baze” brothers, dealing with substantial issues in Pennsylvania’s steel landscape, 2008. Christian Bale’s portrayal of “Russell” is sensitive and formidable; Russell has a kind heart and disposition while “Rodney” (solid performance by Casey Affleck) is volatile, most likely suffering from PTSD after serving four stints in Iraq; gambling and fighting are his remedies for the rage and helplessness he’s frozen in.
The success of the film simmers in the smaller roles: Woody Harrelson is painfully riveting as an amoral psychopath, relishing a life of drug use, illegal gambling, fistfights arranged in an arena, where the sensible would never tread. Shades of “Deliverance” seep into one’s consciousness. Harrelson, a gifted chameleon, sizzles in the slimy role of “Curtis De Groat”.
Willem Dafoe, his chiseled gauntness, and slicked hair lend credence and pungency to the portrayal of “John Perry” a bookie and bar owner who befriends Rodney and is key in the progression of the twisted plot; John cares about Rodney and his untoward choices, and dutifully cautions him.
Sam Shepherd as the devoted uncle; “Gerald Baze” is dedicated, balancing shrewdness and kindness; his sagacity keeps Russell grounded under stratospheric circumstances.
Zoe Saldana and Forrest Whitaker have minor but legitimate roles as Russell’s love interest and sheriff of the sad, destitute town, referencing Braddock, Pa.
The superior cast of “Out of the Furnace” comes very close to transcending the problematic scenario.