Film review – Out of the Furnace (2013)

22 March 2014
Christian Bale as Russell Baze

Christian Bale as Russell Baze

There is something mythical about the American blue-collar town where Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace is set. The hardworking and racially harmonious population are decent folk trying to get by, despite work drying up at the steel mill. Brothers Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney Baze (Casey Affleck) are good men, but afflicted by inner demons. One does time for manslaughter after a drink-driving accident, while the other is an Iraq War veteran with gambling debts that lead him into serious trouble.

What begins as an engaging drama about proud yet flawed working-class men becomes a silly revenge thriller involving drug dealing and bare-knuckle boxing. For a film so overtly set in the shadow of the Global Financial Crisis, it is disappointing that it abandons any opportunity for social critique. Instead the villains of the film are identified as cartoonish hillbillies, lead by a sociopathic Woody Harrelson. Out of the Furnace ultimately squanders its potential, resulting in a second-rate Winters Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) when it could’ve been a contemporary The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978).

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 453, 2014

Thomas Caldwell, 2014

Film review – The Killer Inside Me (2010)

24 August 2010
The Killer Inside Me: Lou Ford (Casey Affleck)

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck)

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a Texas deputy sheriff in a small country town in the 1950s. On the surface Lou seems like a pillar of virtue. He describes himself as ‘a man and a gentleman’, he doesn’t like carrying a gun and he loves his schoolteacher girlfriend Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson). However, Lou is also having an intense sadomasochistic sexual relationship with prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) and has Oedipal issues that are more extreme than usual, even for a film noir protagonist. He is also a delusional psychopath who kills people for reasons that he largely has to invent for himself after the event.

Adapted from the novel by Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me is the latest film by the highly talented and prolific English director Michael Winterbottom (Genova, A Mighty Heart). It is best described as a ‘country noir,’ resembling films like Lone Star and especially No Country For Old Men for its brutal existentialism. It is also a deeply psychological film that takes the audience further and further into Lou’s mind so that the film ends in a way where we are not too sure what is real anymore and what is part of Lou’s deranged perception of reality. In this way The Killer Inside Me also evokes Orson Welles’s The Lady From Shanghai and a very powerful visual motif from the film’s conclusion is also highly suggestive of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

The Killer Inside Me: Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba)

Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba)

The scenes depicting extreme violence against women have been, and will most likely continue to be, the main focal point for many people. This is a pity as there is a lot more to The Killer Inside Me. However the scenes do contain an undeniable power that is impossible not to address, shot as they are in a sickening, graphic, realistic and intimate way. The combination of make-up, cinematography and gut churning sound effects is designed to make the audience feel complete horror and disgust. Casey Affleck’s performance adds to the impact as he is so chillingly calm, restrained and even slightly playful.

These scenes are not voyeuristic exercises in cruelty as they function instead as confronting representations of the true impact of violence, especially when fuelled by the type of extreme paranoid misogyny that possesses Affleck’s character. Post Silence of the Lambs, cinematic serial killers and mass murderers have tended to become transgressive anti-heroes. By making the violence in The Killer Inside Me so revolting and unpalatable, Winterbottom confronts us with our own tendency to become complicit with onscreen violence, in a way that is not too dissimilar to Gaspar Noé Irréversible and both versions of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

The Killer Inside Me: Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) and Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson)

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) and Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson)

The Killer Inside Me is going to attract plenty of detractors not only for its graphic content but also for its pace and bizarre ending. However, it is a slow, atmospheric and simmering film where the tension is maintained effectively through a dread for what may happen next. This is compelling and challenging cinema, punctuated with genuinely shocking moments, by a director and a cast of actors who are right at the top of their game. The content and the unconventional form that this film eventually takes does not make it easy viewing but Winterbottom is a director worth placing your trust in and viewers who are ready to go with him will be immensely rewarded.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

Bookmark and Share

Read more reviews at MRQE