Did you ever see the movie The Deer Hunter? If you didn't, you still probably saw some reference to the classic and horrific Russian Roulette scene. It's a movie that came out in 1978 with Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep. It's a powerful film that shows the effects of the Vietnam War on guys from Western Pennsylvania after they come home. It's widely considered one of the greatest movies ever made which is why director Scott Cooper tried to unofficially remake it with Out of the Furnace. It's not a cheap ripoff but it's certainly a ripoff.
There are differences between the two and they are certainly obvious. For starters, the film is not from the perspective of the veteran, who's played by Casey Affleck. Out of the Furnace if from the perspective of his older brother, who's played by Christian Bale. The relationship that these two have is powerful, emotional and performed beautifully by the two. In fact, it's Bale most sublte and controlled performance and Affleck's most explosive and tragic in his career. Everything about these two is believable and sad. Upon returning from tour after tour in Iraq, Affleck submits himself to brutal illegal fights while Bale tries to get him to blue collar-it-up at the steel mill he works at.
The acting from the rest of the stellar cast is also flawless. Woody Harrleson is the most sadistic and evil he's been since Natural Born Killers. He plays a backwoods crime boss, well, as much of a crime boss as you can be when you're a redneck meth head. As horrible as his character is, there's still moments where you find yourself liking him and that makes you feel as rotted as his teeth. Through no fault of Harrleson's though, the performance is cliche and predictable at times which leads to the bigger problem with the film.
It's too soon to tell if Scott Cooper is a great director. You can tell he's someone who comes from an acting background since both this and his only other movie, Crazy Heart, feature Oscar-worthy performances. But this film is nowhere near as good as his last mostly because it features all images and themes that we've seen before. In fact, we've seen them so much so that it seems like a parody at times although there is absolutely nothing funny about this. I don't mind when movies are self important. I don't mind when movies borrow from previous films that influenced it. I do mind it when they're both. Out of the Furnace finds itself to be very important and it is, however its imagery is too been-there-done-that to take as seriously as the movie deserves.
I know, I know; so far it's nothing like The Deer Hunter. But you have to consider that everything besides small changes to the story is. They both take place in Western Pennsylvania. They show the effects of war on veterans. They both feature the same symbolism of rusted out steel factories, sunsets, wardrobe, sets, etc. Trust me that if you go see Out of the Furnace you'll get a feeling like you've seen this before. Some might say that Out of the Furance is better than The Deer Hunter, but it suffered the fate of coming out in 2013 and not 1977 therefore it is not.