Daily Archives: Sunday, February 16, 2014

  • Out Of The Furnace – Scott Cooper (2013 Usa)

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    Out of the Furnace – Scott Cooper
    (2013 USA) Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson

    Viewed: 4 Feb 2014 ; Empire Cinema
    Newcastle upon Tyne; Ticket: £3.95

    Disneyland invert

    The opening sequence of Cooper’s Out of
    the Furnace takes place in a drive in movie and introduces us to
    Woody Harrelson’s character Harlan. Harlan gets annoyed at something
    or other (much of the detail in the film is elusively blurred). In
    response to his stirred up emotions, he rams a hot dog (“Goddam
    food makes me sick!”) down the throat of his lady consort, before
    beating to a pulp the gentleman who has protested too much. Woody’s
    visceral reaction to whatever it was that upset his guts is so
    extreme its statement of excess becomes funny. It announces that
    ‘Out of the Furnace’ is going to lead us deep into the Hillbilly
    swamplands of parody; an opening preemptive clip that’s bourn out in
    the movie’s development

    Cooper’s film expresses America as a
    kind of inverted Disneyland.

    And in this inverted Disneyland Woody
    Harrelson plays the part of a demonic Jiminy Cricket. The voice of
    the anti-conscience. Perhaps it is the creation of this dark Gothic
    archetype that explains the allure of the film to its audience.
    Harlan as the internalised voice that psychically legitimises the
    violence of the enraged Id. In infantalised cultures defined by an
    imperative for immediate gratification (and celebrated in the adverts
    that precede the movie) frustration is intolerable. The urgency of
    desire legitimises violence towards anything or anyone who is
    perceived as a barrier to desire. As Harlan says when he first
    meets and gives Rodney the look: “I got a problem with everyone”.

    Harrelson’s performance as an
    internalised psychopath comprises the film’s core. Even when not up
    on screen like a shadow he’s still present. Hard eyes (hardening of
    the muscles around the eyes is a trick Harrelson does very well) with
    lips and skin stretched face, he exudes an implacable necessary
    desire for doing only what he wants to do. Harlan’s psychopathic
    counter conscience is offset with Russell and Rodney, the ‘good’
    brothers, in a scripting device that splits off multiple
    personalities into discrete characters. The rustbelt Pennsylvanian
    setting of the film, photographed as a beautifully contrived
    dilapidation, is no more than a picaresque back drop against which to
    set the play out of the internalised personality forces at play in
    American culture: Destruction and Accommodations.

    The limitation of Cooper’s Out of the
    Furnace (Furnace – presumably a metaphor of America, or a play on
    Griffith’s intertitle line in Intolerance: Out of the Cradle
    Endlessly Rocking?) is that from his narrative he is able to produce
    no more than a parody of the American Gothic genre.

    The dialogue lurches from cliché to
    cliché comprising one liners we’ve heard before in some other movie.
    The scripting elements: the damaged war vet, the bare knuckle
    fighting, dying old father, all tread well worn narrative paths
    without deviating from the familiar. The scripting device that
    exploits the idea the Mountain Men reflects the ultimate parody of
    distancing. It spatially removes the schizoid psychopathic cultural
    forces, destruction and accommodation, from close-up (Zimmerman’s
    slaying of Martin – Florida 2012: Dunn’s slaying of Davis – Florida
    2913. Both these killings appear to have been triggered by the
    infantile rage of the killer when their will was opposed by young
    blacks. Both killers took legal refuge in Florida’s Stand Your
    Ground Statute.) to faraway. The Mountain Men become distant
    phantoms removed from day to day life. ( ‘Some of them never bin down
    from those hills’). Out of the Furnaces’s Mountain Men are caste as
    sort of Zombie creatures, removed from mainstream psychic conditions,
    who prosper in their own middens. Of course this device of the
    ‘other’ (Hillbillies, Mountain Men, Swamp Men) has been prodigiously
    over exploited by Hollywood from Boorman’s Deliverance and a host of
    movies since. Cooper again brings nothing new to the idea, only
    replication and repetition.

    The final sequence of film abrogates
    any moral claims Cooper might make for his movie. Folded into the
    film is a subplot with a racial dimension. In one of the opening
    scenes in the movie Russell has a black girl friend. During the
    stretch he serves for drunken driving, she leaves him for the town’s
    black police chief. Although apparently in love with Russell, she
    choses black middle class respectability over white trash life style.
    The sexual competition between the two men is suggested but muted in
    the script. The image projected by Out of the Furnace is one of a
    matured interrace relations in which racist white attitudes have been
    completely eroded by liberal progressive states of mind. The problem
    is that this liberal optimism is countervailed by the film’s core
    proposition of the schizoid character of the white American. And in
    the penultimate scene, where Russell is chasing and gunning down
    Harlan, the black cop in pursuit orders Russell to put down his gun
    and not shoot. Russell disobeys and kills Harlan. This resolution
    is dishonest and points to the difficulties white film makers have
    with race. The filmmakers lose their nerve and the plot. The only
    moral outcome for the plot was for the black cop to have killed
    Russell and Harlan to have escaped. The reality of the American
    Psyche is suppressed rage, which in the film is represented by
    Harrelson’s Harlan. This demented schizo force is the one that
    eludes escapes and elides with the good, and the logic is that it
    should escape. Every slock horror film script writer and director
    knows this and intuitively understands the logic, even in parody,
    that this is what has to be. Cooper for whatever reason doesn’t get
    Adrin Neatrour