Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Out of the Furnace (2013)

The modern western gets a modern runtime; western fans may want Out of the Furnace

A never-do-well war veteran returns home. Unable to fit into the ordinary life of a mill town, he is sucked into an illegal fighting ring, loses his life to a crooked drug-dealing promoter. His tormented, law-abiding brother with a disgraced past will take revenge.

A century of cinema proves that time is cyclical: genres get invented, rise in popularity, fall out of favour, and are refashioned. The modern western displaces its outlaws and anti-heroes, its white hats and black hats into the liminal space bounded by the decaying inner city and interstate highways where a weakened or absent state allows them to continue their ritual dance of violence and blood.

Both the western and the modern western are marked by ruthless efficiency in storytelling, characterisation, and pacing. With a runtime of nearly 2 hours, Out of the Furnace feels like an experiment to see if the genre can survive a drawn-out storytelling which involves telling everything from the very beginning, expanding what would normally be told in shorthand into entire scenes and acts.

The trade-off is not as unbalanced as it seems. Yes, the film has pacing issues and its step by step storytelling feels excruciatingly tedious at points. The first act would normally be hinted at in dialogue. The second act culminates with Woody Harrelson’s black hat terrorising the troubled war vet and his business partner. In a proper western that would happen within 15 minutes into the beginning. Yet the film makes up for its faults with its detailed mood-setting, as well as more than competent performances by a great cast of veteran character actors.

In the larger scheme of things, Out of the Furnace isn’t that an outrageous take on the western, not with the countless times the genre has been given extreme makeovers. It’s just one of the extreme makeovers that prove that some rules of the genre shouldn’t be broken that lightly.

No comments: