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Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace is a 2013 American action thriller film directed by Scott Cooper, from a screenplay written by Cooper and Brad Ingelsby. Produced by Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio, the film stars Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Shepard.

The film is about Pennsylvania steel mill worker Russell Baze (Bale), and his Iraq war veteran brother Rodney (Affleck) who cannot adjust to civilian life. Rodney makes money fighting bareknuckle for bar owner and small-time criminal John Petty (Dafoe), who runs illegal gambling operations, but becomes so indebted due to gambling losses that he begs Petty for a big money fight. After Petty reluctantly arranges this with a ruthless backwoods criminal gang, Rodney disappears and his brother tries to find out what has happened.

The film received a limited release in Los Angeles and New York City on December 4, 2013, followed by a wide theatrical release on December 6. The film earned $15.7 million against its $22 million budget and it received mixed reviews.

Plot

After getting off work at a North Braddock, Pennsylvania steel mill, Russell Baze sees his brother, Rodney, at a horse racing simulcast, where Rodney had just bet on a losing horse. Rodney reveals he is betting with money lent by John Petty, who owns a bar and runs several illegal games. Russell visits Petty, pays off some of Rodney's debt, and promises to pay Petty the rest with his next paycheck if Rodney has not yet paid it off. Driving home intoxicated, Russell hits a car, killing its occupants including a little boy. He is incarcerated for vehicular manslaughter. While in prison, he is informed that his ailing father has died and his girlfriend Lena has left him for the small town police chief, Wesley Barnes. Upon his release from prison, Russell returns home and resumes his job.

The same day, Rodney participates in an illegal bare-knuckle prizefight. Rodney was supposed to take a "dive" to repay some of the debt but becomes enraged at his opponent and defeats him. The next morning, Russell finds Rodney's bloodied knuckle tapes in the trash and confronts him about it. Russell wants him to work in the mill, but Rodney, a four-tour Iraq war veteran, is too mentally scarred for a regular job.

Rodney tells Petty that these "nickel and dime" fights will never earn him enough to repay Petty. Rodney then insists that Petty organizes a more lucrative fight. Petty reluctantly arranges one with Harlan DeGroat, a sociopathic drug dealer from rural New Jersey to whom Petty is in debt. Meanwhile Russell wants his girlfriend back, but she is pregnant with Wesley's baby. Russell unsuccessfully feigns contentment to Lena, saying she will be a great mom: both know that her pregnancy makes their getting back together impossible.

Rodney is told he must intentionally lose the New Jersey fight. When DeGroat seeks assurances Rodney will lose, Petty promises he will. Rodney knocks out his opponent, but after Petty pleads with him, he helps his opponent up, takes a dive, and lets the man pummel his face into a bloody mess. After the fight, DeGroat asks for the rest of his loan, but Petty reminds him they had agreed that this fight made them even, and DeGroat drops the subject. While driving back home, however, DeGroat and his men ambush Petty and Rodney. DeGroat first shoots and kills Petty, then has Rodney dragged into the woods and kills him, too. Unknown to anyone, Petty's cell phone had fallen out of his pocket onto the car seat, accidentally connecting to his bartender Dan's voicemail and recording DeGroat murdering Petty.

That night, Russell finds a letter from Rodney, stating that this will be his last fight and that he wants to work with Russell at the mill. Wesley informs Russell about Rodney's disappearance, and Russell and his uncle, Red, set off to find him. In DeGroat's town, Russell and Red are stopped by a Bergen County deputy sheriff, who informs them that DeGroat's men would kill them if they knew why the two were in town, and, as a favor to Chief Barnes, he will escort them to the state line rather than searching and arresting them for illegally carrying concealed weapons.

Upon returning to the mill, Wesley visits Russell and confirms Rodney's death. Russell goes to Petty's office, finds a phone number for DeGroat, and calls him without identifying himself, enticing him to come to collect Petty's debt. At the bar, Russell sabotages DeGroat's van to prevent his escape and confronts him. DeGroat escapes to a nearby shutdown mill, where Russell shoots him in the thigh. Russell then follows DeGroat to a field outside the mill as he hobbles off and shoots him in the back. Russell informs DeGroat that he is Rodney's brother, as Wesley approaches the field in a squad car. Wesley pleads for Russell to put down his gun, but Russell proceeds to carefully aim his hunting rifle and shoots DeGroat in the back of the head. The film cuts to a pensive Russell sitting at home at the dining table, suggesting that Wesley had arranged matters so that Russell avoided prison.

Cast

  • Christian Bale as Russell Baze
  • Woody Harrelson as Harlan DeGroat
  • Casey Affleck as Rodney Baze, Jr.
  • Forest Whitaker as Wesley Barnes
  • Willem Dafoe as John Petty
  • Tom Bower as Dan Dugan

  • Zoë Saldana as Lena Taylor

  • Sam Shepard as Gerald "Red" Baze

    Production



    Development

    The film was produced by Relativity Media, Appian Way Productions, Red Granite Pictures, and Scott Free Productions, with Jeff Waxman, Tucker Tooley, Brooklyn Weaver, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Joe Gatta, Danny Dimbort, and Christian Mercuri serving as executive producers. Director Scott Cooper read an article about Braddock, Pennsylvania, a declining steel industry town outside of Pittsburgh, and the efforts to revitalize it, led by mayor John Fetterman. After visiting, Cooper was inspired to use the borough as the backdrop for a film. Cooper developed the story from The Low Dweller, a spec script written by Brad Ingelsby that had actor Leonardo DiCaprio and director Ridley Scott attached. The studio offered the script to Cooper, which he rewrote, drawing on his experience of growing up in Appalachia and losing a sibling at a young age. DiCaprio and Scott stayed on as producers of the film. The story has no relation to Out of This Furnace, a 1941 historical novel by Thomas Bell, set in Braddock. The Hollywood Reporter reported the film's budget was $22 million.

    Filming

    Principal photography began in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area on April 13, 2012, and wrapped on June 1, 2012. The majority of filming took place in Braddock, and additional filming was in nearby North Braddock, Imperial, Rankin, and Swissvale. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi shot the feature in anamorphic format on Kodak 35mm film. Prison scenes were filmed in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, at the former State Penitentiary in Moundsville. Filming also took place in rural Beaver County, including a deer hunting scene in Raccoon Creek State Park and a mill scene in Koppel. Independence Township doubled for Bergen County, New Jersey. The Carrie Furnace, an abandoned blast furnace near Braddock, served as the location for the film's finale. Christian Bale wore a tattoo of Braddock's ZIP code, 15104, on his neck as a homage to the town's mayor John Fetterman, who has the same design on his arm.

    Music

    The musical score to Out of the Furnace was composed by Dickon Hinchliffe. Originally, it was announced that Alberto Iglesias had reached an agreement to compose the score for the film. However, Hinchliffe later took over scoring duties. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder re-recorded the song Release from Pearl Jam's debut album Ten for the film, which can be heard during the opening scenes and end credits. A soundtrack album featuring Hinchliffe's score was released digitally on December 3, 2013 by Relativity Music Group.

    Release

    The film premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre on November 9, 2013 in Hollywood, California as part of the American Film Institute's AFI Fest. It received a limited release in Los Angeles and New York City on December 4, 2013, followed by a wide theatrical release in the U.S. on December 6. Director Scott Cooper won the award for best first or second film for Out of the Furnace at the 2013 Rome Film Festival.

    The Pearl Jam song "Release" is featured during the opening title and features in a newly recorded edition during the end credits.

    Reception



    Box office

    Out of the Furnace was the only new film to receive a wide release in the U.S. on December 6, 2013, and earned an estimated $1.8 million on its opening day. The film took in an estimated $5.3 million over its opening weekend. The film came in third behind the animated Disney film Frozen, which brought in $31.6 million, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which had $27 million in ticket sales that weekend. Relativity Media had pre-sold the film to foreign distributors for $16 million, which offset its costs.

    Critical response

    On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an average approval rating of 53% based on 182 reviews and an average rating of 5.9/10. The general consensus for the site says: "While it may not make the most of its incredible cast, Out of the Furnace is still so packed with talent that it's hard to turn away." The film holds a score of 63 (indicating "generally favorable reviews") out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 40 critics.

    Top ten lists

    Despite its mixed critical reception, Out of the Furnace appeared on several critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2013.
  • 2nd – Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times
  • 2nd – Clint O'Connor, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • 4th – Marc Doye, Metacritic
  • 6th – Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly
  • 7th – Kristopher Tapley, Hitfix

    Lawsuit

    Town officials from Mahwah, New Jersey, urged a boycott of the film due to negative depictions of the Ramapough Mountain Indians, an indigenous people living around the Ramapo Mountains. They characterized the film's portrayal of this group as a hate crime. Relativity Media responded that the film "is not based on any one person or group" and is "entirely fictional". Nine members of the group, eight of whom have the surname DeGroat, the same as the lead character, filed suit against the makers and other involved parties, claiming that Out of the Furnace portrays a gang of "inbreds" living in the Ramapo Mountains who are "lawless, drug-addicted, impoverished and violent." The lawsuit asserts that "The Defendants, and each of them, knew or should have known that their actions would place Plaintiffs, and/or any person so situated in a false light." The suit continues, "The connection between the ethnic slur of 'Jackson Whites', with the location of the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey', with a Bergen County Police patrol car, with the surnames 'DeGroat' and 'Van Dunk', is too specific to the Ramapough plaintiffs to be chance, coincidence or happenstance, and implies an element of knowledge on the part of the Defendants, or some of them."

    On May 16, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge William Walls, sitting in Newark, New Jersey, dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the film did not refer directly to any of the plaintiffs.