2013 is one of the best years for quality films that I have seen in a long time.  Although many of the films are in limited release and are only showing in major urban markets, there are so many worthy films that eventually a great one will make it to your local theater.

Thank You, Chris Nashawaty (EW) for putting Out of the Furnace on your top 10 list for the year; otherwise I may not have seen it.  It seems to be missing from every other critic’s list and so far hasn’t received any end of year awards (according to IMDB) except an obscure Rome Fest best debut director award.  The critical slight seems to be matched by a lack of commercial success as well.  Comments on the web indicate that moviegoers find it pensive, sluggish and lacking in action.  Perhaps they were expecting an action film.  Expectations are something that you shouldn’t go into this movie with, as it isn’t easily defined. 

Set in Braddock, Pennsylvania and the Rampao Mountains of New Jersey, Out of the Furnace is a gritty drama that is about the other part of the American dream, the post 9/11 wars American dream, the post recession American dream -the one that no longer exits. At the center of this elegiac drama is the story of two blue collar brothers Russell (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney Jr. (Casey Affleck) who has come back from several tours of Afghanistan with his share of demons.  The film is framed by a prologue that foretells the violence to come and a one shot epilogue that isn’t exactly clear, yet somehow works emotionally.  Filmmaker Scot Cooper (director and co-writer with Brad Ingelsby) creates a time mosaic where it is often difficult to tell how much time has passed between major episodes in the brothers’ lives. This subtle technique in storytelling prevails throughout the film, forcing the viewer to constantly question the information they have and what information they need to follow the story.

Out of the Furnace was filmed on location in a landscape of working class neighborhoods where houses resemble shanties and smoke stacks and barbed wire barely cut a contrast in the gray sky.  The filmmakers embrace authenticity with a little too much fealty sometimes; some of the interiors are so outdated that it often felt like I was watching a period piece from the 1970’s. However this determination to be real is done with earnestness and most of the time it works to the film’s advantage.  

Certainly the performances are top-notch with the great cast headed by the very talented Christian Bale, who proves he is a true chameleon.  With an intense stillness which never feels like acting Bale’s Russell deals with the blows of a tough life with dignity.  He manages to be the moral center in a grim dog eat dog world, even though he is an ex-con. Woody Harrelson proves again that he is one of the most underrated and most versatile actors working today. Harrelson plays the scariest psychopath this side of the Mississippi.

Out of the Furnace is a powerful drama about what happens when you have nothing left to lose and when vengeance, although it wrecks its own chaos, feels like a deserved reward. It is spare, morally ambivalent and like no other film out there today.