Casey Affleck has a youthful intensity: he's too vulnerable to go to the deadly places he explores as a fighter to prove himself in the testosterone fueled "Out of the Furnace," in theaters this week. The opening scenes are so brutal, with a screw loose Woody Harrelson going ballistic on his date at the drive in, you know that by the time the two meet, nothing good will come of it. After four tours in Iraq, Affleck's sweet-faced Rodney Baze has so few options in the Pennsylvania town where he lives with a dying father, and with his brother, the incomparable Christian Bale as Russell Baze.
I spent a good part of the movie with my hands over my eyes, ruing my presence at a movie that displays boys behaving so badly. That said, in the end, the story resonated at a different level, as a parable about returning war heroes and the bleak opportunities they have connecting with home, family and a meaningful job. Featuring excellent, tough but sensitive, performances by Affleck and Bale, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, and Sam Shepard against an authentic, gritty, industrial steel mill backdrop, in the end, the themes of revenge and love overshadow the violence.
At a special screening last week, director Scott Cooper admitted Harrelson's Harlan DeGroat was so irredeemable, a lawless psychopath, the actor could not wait to shake him off. This character makes Harrelson's role in Oren Moverman's "Ramparts" look like a boy scout. When asked how the dream cast came on board, producer Jeff Waxman said, two words, Christian Bale: "Once we got him, everyone else came." Memorable for his role in David O. Russell's "The Fighter," and a star of the highly anticipated "American Hustle," here he's a man's man, down on his luck, soft when he needs to be, the conscience of this movie.
At lunch at the Explorers Club, for a celebration of the film hosted by Robert Duvall, a champion of this film and its director, Affleck spoke about his role as Rodney Baze, intrigued to play a character that had an inner life in war he simply could not share. How do we take care of our soldiers is what this movie is about, he explained, but Cooper was smart to make this a subtle point in the larger drama.
Affleck was curious about this place; he had heard of the Explorers Club as a boy but never before visited. Richard Wiese, its youngest ever president now acting as ambassador, took Affleck behind the velvet ropes up the stairs of the spacious Upper East Side townhouse, adorned with photos of well-known and obscure adventurers: a wood-paneled man cave, you could say, but Wiese was quick to point out that Sigourney Weaver is also a member. The enthusiastic guided tour filled with lore led to a historic shot of the subject of Affleck's next film, about naval officer Robert Falcon Scott and his expeditions to the regions of Antarctica.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.