Blu-ray Review Crime

Bare-Knuckle Blu-ray Review: Out of the Furnace

March 12, 2014Ben MK

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And into the fire

By Ben Mk

Sometimes you have to go out of your way to find inspiration. But other times, inspiration finds you — as with director Scott Cooper's latest film, Out of the Furnace. The film is a contemporary exploration of the cyclical nature of violence, set against the backdrop of moral and economic decline in a small Pennsylvania mining community. And it's a story that Cooper was inspired to tell, after witnessing first-hand the stories of the hardship faced by the residents of one town — Braddock, Pennsylvania.

Russell Baze (Christian Bale) works double shifts at the Braddock steel mill, toiling to earn a modest income that he uses to care for his ailing father, who's spent years working in the same mill and is now dying as a result of it. Meanwhile, his brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), an Iraq veteran, spends most of his time placing bets with the local bookie, John Petty (Willem Dafoe) — bets that Russell usually ends up settling on his behalf. Though life is hard, Russell has learned to be content with what he has, especially with girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) by his side.

But all of that changes in an instant, when Russell is involved in a deadly car accident, resulting in his incarceration. And so begins a chain of events that sees the Baze family's luck go from bad to worse. Eventually, Rodney's gambling habits lead to him becoming involved in underground fight clubs, and becoming entwined with a vicious and psychopathic drug dealer named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). But when things finally come to a head and Rodney disappears, Russell finds himself with no recourse other than to take matters into his own hands and seek justice for his brother — because no one else dares to.

Though the cast — which also includes such Hollywood heavyweights as Sam Shepard and Forest Whitaker — is nothing short of top tier, it's Saldana, Bale and Affleck who anchor the film, bringing immense credibility, dimensionality and emotional gravitas to their roles. It's certainly an ensemble effort, but — as pairs who share unbreakable, yet tragic, bonds — the Lena-Russell and Russell-Rodney relationships are two halves of the story's beating heart. The film maintains an unshakable focus on the story of the Baze brothers, but at the same time, Cooper doesn't shy away from impressing on viewers the dismal reality of life in Braddock. In fact, it's a major aspect of the story. The town is as much a character as any of the actors are — its bleak landscape brings a haunting realism to the images on-screen, lending an almost cinéma vérité quality to the piece and allowing much of the drama to flow through subtext.

Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi's grim and gritty photography shines on Blu-ray, capturing the experience of life in Braddock with stark realism. Draped in an ever-present veil of fine grain, the Blu-ray transfer accurately reproduces his earthy color palette — which also adds the teal hues of scenes in the mill's locker room and the fiery, orange glow of its furnace for variety — and features solid contrast and shadow detail to boot (good news for the film's many scenes that take place in half-darkness). As for the sharpness of the image, it's never called into question, with plenty of detail to be found in the hardened faces of the characters, as well as in the environment — from the chipped paint on the front porch of the Baze residence to the dirt and detritus dusting the grounds of the abandoned mill used where some of the fights take place. Audio-wise, the disc's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack admirably recreates the film's moody soundstage, especially composer T Bone Burnett's twangy, yet introspective and haunting, score and the bittersweet melodies of the Pearl Jam rock ballad (titled 'Release') that bookends the film.

The Blu-ray release includes a DVD copy of the film, plus just over fifteen minutes of HD special features, in the form of three brief but informative featurettes. The Making of 'Out of The Furnace' focuses on the origins of the story, its themes, and Cooper's approach to shooting the film. Crafting the 'Fight Scenes' sheds some light on the film's stunt coordination; in particular, the work that Affleck and Harrelson put into their respective fight scenes. And Finding Inspiration provides the film's principle cast with an outlet for discussing their respective acting inspirations.

With the shadow of real-life tragedy looming large in the background, Out of the Furnace may paint a grim portrait of small town life in America's Heartland, but its story of brotherhood and the bonds of family is powerful, compelling and poignant. The Blu-ray release boasts an A/V presentation that does ample justice to the material, along with a small selection of quality supplements, making Out of the Furnace on Blu-ray worth going to the mat for.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★½
Special Features  —  ★★½

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on November 26th, 2013.

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