OUT OF THE FURNACE
Steel Workers, Soldiers and Sociopaths
"Rodney, go work at the mill like your father, your brother.
This is no way to make a living.
You're a good kid with a good heart.
You could do much worse than to live your life like your brother."
- John Petty, Out of the Furnace
Russell Baze, the stalwart steel worker at the center of acclaimed writer and
director Scott Cooper's new film, Out of the Furnace, plies a dying trade in an
almost forgotten town, holding tight to traditional values like family,
friendship and honor. Academy Award winner Christian Bale plays Russell, a
quiet, contained man who has taken responsibility for his younger brother Rodney
since childhood. Russell has accepted the hardships that his life presents with
equanimity, but over the course of the film, he is forced to make decisions that
will define who he is in a story that is at once tragic and inspirational.
As he did in his acclaimed first film, Crazy Heart, Cooper explores some of
the darker corners of the American psyche, this time through the eyes of Russell
and Rodney (Casey Affleck), an Iraq war vet unable to find an emotional or
financial footing in the town in which he grew up. Joining the cast immediately
after completing The Dark Knight Rises, the third chapter in Christopher Nolan's
celebrated "Batman" franchise, Bale shed his character's signature cowl and cape
along with his larger-than-life bravado to play the role of an everyday hero.
Cooper says he appreciates movies in which the quiet drama of real life takes
center stage. "In films today, you often find superheroic people sporting
outlandish costumes," he says. "But to me, working-class Americans are the real
heroes. This is the story of a man who works in a blast furnace, but it also
deals with themes of justice, retribution and courage."
Long drawn to the stories of people living on the margins of society, Cooper
says, "I greatly respect anyone who works hard for a living and takes a sense of
pride in what they do. The steel industry especially has always interested me.
The type of work that these men do is at times very dangerous and the result of
their work is something that touches us all on a daily basis."
He decided to incorporate Russell Baze and the steadfast, largely invisible
men of the Rust Belt into a saga that would examine some of the crushing changes
he believes everyday Americans have struggled against in recent times.
The script had gone through several rounds of development before Cooper took
it on and made it his own, according to co-producer Michael Ireland. "Scott
Cooper brought a completely different dimension to it," he says. "He's a
brilliant writer and an auteur in the truest sense of the word, which elevated
everything about this project. He understands the human condition. As a former
actor, he knows what motivates characters and he was able to infuse the script
with real emotion."
Cooper crafted a story about two brothers, each coming to terms in their own
way with the fact that the way of life they've always known is disappearing.
When the choices Rodney makes become irresponsible and even dangerous, Russell
tries-and fails-to steer him in another direction.
Producers Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson Killoran believe that "the
bond between two siblings is something that's easily taken for granted as part
of everyday life, and is also a theme that is difficult to depict authentically.
We were struck by how adeptly Scott portrayed the power of family in this film."
"This is a story about the kind of men you don't often see anymore,"
continues Ireland. "They know the value of hard work, family and loyalty. The
younger brother ends up owing the wrong man money. When he suddenly disappears,
his older brother has to decide what to do. The heart of the film is Russell's
emotional journey to redeem both himself and his brother."
That "wrong man" is local crime boss Harlan DeGroat, played with searing
acuity by Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson. DeGroat's depraved avarice and
Russell's implacable moral code inevitably put them on a collision course that
will alter the courses of both their lives.
Cooper's film opens with a scene of senseless violence that introduces
DeGroat's penchant for casual cruelty and prepares the audience for what is to
come. "The entire picture is an examination of the nature of violence in a
society in which men have to solve their own problems," the director says. "We
see that today in Syria, in Cairo, in South Los Angeles. We see it in Chicago
and Detroit. I thought, if I'm going to examine violence in this way, then I
should open the movie in a very naturalistically violent way, a way that I
hadn't seen in a film before."
The devastating incident takes place in a quintessentially American place-the
local drive-in theater. "It seemed to be a really great place to let the
audience know quickly that this is a very direct film," Cooper says. "I thought
it was a fitting introduction for the rest of the story and for a character who
becomes pivotal to the action."
Adds executive producer Jeff G. Waxman: "The opening scene is one of the most
shocking and violent scenes in the movie. It sets the stage for what comes next
in the film, because you know right away that this guy is not your average guy.
Scott has created something really special, just like he did with Crazy Heart."
The lack of choices available to the Baze brothers is an accurate depiction
of real life in places like Braddock, Pennsylvania, where the story is set and
the film was shot, says Ireland. "The movie is gritty and it's dark, but there
is also an element of hope to it. Even after all is said and done, life carries
on in this town. There's a next generation and there's rebirth."
DiCaprio and Killoran also found the location to be perfect, saying
"Braddock, PA is a major character in the film; it has always been a critical
member of the ensemble cast. The backdrop served the story in ways that no one
could have anticipated. Shooting on location was always important to Scott, and
Cooper maintained a clear and consistent vision for the film that inspired
the cast and crew, according to Ireland. "He's a great leader. He's never down.
When things go wrong, he stays positive. He gives everyone he works with enough
freedom to do what they need to, but he's always there when he's needed. I've
worked with Academy Award winning directors and he's right up there."
Ireland says he felt privileged to be on the set during shooting. "At least
once a day, I literally gasped because something was so exceptional. It's very
rare that the stars align in the way they have for this movie. It's a gritty
crime thriller imbued with the idea of hope and family, which makes it
accessible to everybody. Because of the genuine emotion the actors bring to it,
everybody is going to be able to relate to at least one person in this film.
It's very simply told, but there's so much emotional complexity that it will
knock you over."
Another way the stars aligned was catching the attention of Pearl Jam's front
man Eddie Vedder whose song "Release" is featured in both the film and first
trailer. This iconic song from the band's multi-platinum debut album "Ten" had
never been licensed for any medium before making its presence in the film. The
themes and arc of the song parallel that of the film and were very personal to
Vedder. He was so moved by what he saw that he agreed to re-record his vocals
for the end titles to give it an authentic feel.
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