Under the Radar

Exploring an Iraq Vet's Struggles in 'Out of the Furnace'

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Out of the Furnace (out now on Blu-ray and DVD) tells a tragic tale about Russell and Rodney Baze, two working-class Pennsylvania brothers played by Christian Bale and Casey Affleck. Bale is a machinist who's trying to look out for his younger brother, an Iraq war vet fighting PTSD.

When the movie came out last December, it into a PR buzzsaw because its bad guys (led by Woody Harrelson) have Dutch last names that are common in the Ramapo tribe, a New Jersey cultural group that identifies as Native American. The Ramapough Lunaape Nation sued the film's director Scott Cooper, claiming his characters defamed their people. 

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Cooper previously directed Crazy Heart, the movie that finally won Jeff Bridges an Oscar. Like that movie, Out of the Furnace reveals Cooper's eye for working-class people in difficult circumstances. Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard  and Zoe Saldana round out a cast that's happy to show up onscreen looking like no one's bathed for a week.

There's a lot of gambling, illegal underground boxing, seedy bars and organized crime. Bale tries to save his brother from his demons and sets out for vengeance when those efforts fail. The movie is a character study masquerading as an action movie. There's no uplift at the end, but the performances are uniformly strong.

Pearl Jam fans will be interested to learn that the movie is bookended by two versions of the band's song "Release," opening with the original Ten recording and returning in a newly-recorded version by Eddie Vedder over the end credits. The rest of the score (by composer Dickon Hinchliffe from UK band The Tindersticks) echoes the uneasy vibe common to so much '90s Seattle rock. If you're interested in a more contemporary take on The Deer Hunter, then Out of the Furnace is worth checking out.

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One complaint, though: the UltraViolet digital copy that comes with the Blu-ray can only be redeemed via the Target Ticket service and if you use an app like Flixster to stream your movies on a smart TV or Blu-ray player, you're going to be out of luck.

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