Thursday, December 5, 2013

Can "Out of the Furnace" Sneak into the Oscar Conversation?

Christian Bale
Back in 2009, director Scott Cooper made it onto the scene with the highly acclaimed Crazy Heart. Earning Jeff Bridges his first Oscar (Best Actor), it told the story of a down-on-his-luck country singer who was in the autumn years. It connected with audiences and helped to make the compositions of T. Bone Burnett popular again. If there was any flaw to the debut, it was that it may have been light on the darker elements and even if Bridges was a powerhouse performer, the rest of the story wasn't as strong without him. With his follow-up, Cooper looks to be going darker with Out of the Furnace with a higher caliber cast and plenty of darker, dramatic themes. But is it enough to get him recognized by the Academy again?

I do not want to call Cooper a fluke, as I do plan to one day watch Out of the Furnace. However, the advertisements don't look to be pushing the film as the next big Academy Award contender. The redeeming factor is its main cast, which includes winner Christian Bale (Best Supporting Actor - The Fighter), and nominees Casey Affleck (Best Supporting Actor - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Woody Harrelson (Best Actor - The Messenger) and Forrest Whitaker. There isn't a lack of talent here and with Cooper's previous installment being a surprise hit, there is a good chance that his magic will come back here.

As stated, the trailer does look dark and violent. Where Crazy Heart could at very least be construed as a heart warming story, this one looks to be full of guns and punching. The trailer's use of Pearl Jam also seem to make things feel over dramatic and thus possibly too saturated with forced emotion. That is just opinion. Check out the trailer for yourself:

Looks pretty intense. According to IMDb, the plot synopsis is:
"When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement fails to follow through, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own hands to find justice."
Not bad for a film concept. With Bale playing the lead role, that makes things even more intriguing. He has always been a charismatic actor and thus will at very least stand a chance of making this role feel interesting. Of course, there are bigger issues with the film being dark and familiar. Even if it isn't all that similar, films like Prisoners have come out this year and dealt with disappearances. Even if it struck a chord with audiences, those films have yet to gain any Oscar momentum and thus paint an unfortunate picture for Out of the Furnace.

Of course, judging on its own merits, this film has a higher caliber cast. The only detractor is that it feels a little too late for consideration. It doesn't rank anywhere on statistic website Gold Derby's list of nominees. It does feel like as we entered December that the players are already in place. With films topping end of the year lists and sweeping awards ceremonies like Gotham, this one has missed its chance at the gold. It could still be a surprise hit with the public, but as far as films with long shot chances, Her is more likely to be that title, as it has already topped many lists. 

It also does hurt that this film has gotten not considerably great reviews. On critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, it currently ranks at 55%, which isn't far removed from potential, but is low enough where it may just be thrown out of consideration. I cannot comment on how great of performances any of the cast will do, but those fields look even more crowded right now. At most, it could sneak into the Best Original Screenplay field, though it isn't even present in the race at this moment.

This will probably just do well to be a film that the public enjoys. However, with all of the marketing, it does seem a little too bleak for the Christmas season and thus may prove to have an uphill struggle. In fact, with competition like Catching Fire, Frozen, and Thor: The Dark World, the film will probably be just a modest hit at the box office. Even among the Oscar contenders, it isn't looking like it will outrank them in box office. It is just a crazy season that is seeing more populous, enjoyable films taking priority. It could be good, but I do believe that box office does play into how a film is perceived at awards time. Much like Prisoners, this looks to be a year where dark films about kidnapping won't play.

Will Out of the Furnace pull a surprise nomination in any categories? Does box office really relegate how a film's cinematic quality is perceived? Is the cast strong enough to pull off the material?

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