Blue collar violence, thwarted beatniks and deceit Down Under -Tom Leins reviews this week’s biggest DVDs.
Directed by Crazy Heart’s Scott Cooper, Out of the Furnace (Lionsgate) is a bloody, sweaty drama that examines the violent lengths that some men will go to in order to survive in a ravaged steel industry town.
Russell Baze (Christian Bale, The Machinist) works a dead-end job trying to make ends meet so he can support his long-suffering girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek) and his ailing father. After returning from active duty in Iraq, Russell’s tormented younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone) gets involved with a bareknuckle fight club run by demented hillbilly Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson, Rampart) and his crime syndicate. When Rodney fails to come home after a fight, Russell puts his own life on the line in order to investigate.
Originally conceived as a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio -with Ridley Scott attached as director -Out of the Furnace hasn’t obviously suffered as a result of the high profile withdrawals, with a haunted-looking Christian Bale giving a typically committed lead performance. He is joined by a top-notch cast, including Willem Dafoe, Forest Whittaker and Sam Shepard, although sole female cast member of note Saldana is shamefully underused in a superfluous supporting role.
The first half of the movie is excellent: brutal and unpredictable, but it loses its way as the narrative unfolds, and the climactic showdown feels disappointingly unimaginative. Considering the A-list cast, it is a shame that Out of the Furnace can only muster a B-movie plot. All in all, a good solid thriller, albeit one that doesn’t quite deliver the level of complexity that the bold casting suggests.
Inside Llewyn Davis (Studio Canal) follows a week in the life of the titular folk singer (Oscar Isaac, The Two Faces of January) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Set against the backdrop of an unforgiving New York winter, the movie sees hapless Llewyn bounce between friends’ couches as he struggles to secure a foothold in the merciless music industry. With his debut album ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ floundering, the singer is forced to perform on novelty records cash-in-hand, as he embarks on an odyssey to audition for legendary music mogul Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham, Homeland), a man who can make or break his career.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a wry, amusing movie that finds the Coen Brothers indulging themselves to the hilt. As an evocation of a bygone era, the Coens latest period piece is excellent -doing for the 1960s New York folk scene what Barton Fink did for 1940s Hollywood. What it lacks compared to the earlier movie is a greater sense of narrative purpose, with the directorial duo preferring to stitch together a series of quirky vignettes rather than tell a broader tale. Long-term collaborator John Goodman is in scene-stealing form as a junk-addled jazz fiend, but his character doesn’t spark the film to life in the same way he did in Barton Fink.
Indeed, the supporting cast grows more impressive with each passing scene (Garrett Hedlund, Adam Driver, Carey Mulligan), but does little to develop the plot. Oscar Isaac is tremendous in the lead role, but the sense of aimlessness and lack of a satisfactory ending will ultimately ensure that Inside Llewyn Davis won’t rank alongside Coen classics like Fargo, Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona and the aforementioned Barton Fink. That said, the soundtrack, as overseen by long-term collaborator T-Bone Burnett, is just about worth the price of admission alone!
In Wish You Were Here (Metrodome) married coupleDave (Joel Edgerton, Animal Kingdom, Warrior) and Alice (Felicity Price, Home & Away) are about to become parents for the third time when they agree to join Alice’s younger sister Steph (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies) and her new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr, Banshee) on an impromptu week-long trip to Cambodia. Their week of sun-soaked debauchery quickly turns sour, however, when brash Jeremy vanishes without a trace. After an official investigation fails to shed any light on the disappearance, Dave and Alice return home to their young family. Steph initially remains in Cambodia, desperate for answers, but her eventual return sees a series of dark secrets come tumbling out, threatening not just Dave and Alice’s domestic bliss -but Dave’s life itself.
Australian Edgerton -star of the upcoming Ridley Scott Moses epic Exodus: Gods and Kings -is a brooding, charismatic presence, and it is interesting to see him step back from his recent work in Hollywood to work on a modest homegrown movie such as this. Actor-turned-first-time director Kieran Darcy-Smith -he starred alongside Edgerton in Animal Kingdom -has helmed a memorable first feature, albeit one that sometimes suffers from pacing problems and a muddled sense of purpose. The psychological baggage affecting Dave is convincingly rendered, but the movie as a whole could do with a few more heavyweight scenes and a bit more Cambodian colour. Don’t let the jaunty title fool you -for the most part Wish You Were Here is gritty and absorbing with an impressively queasy pay-off.