Coarse and not exactly subtle, this dark drama might disappoint viewers expecting a more traditional revenge thriller, but there's something more interesting going on here. And even though it starts at full volume and only gets more intense, the film is actually remarkably thoughtful and measured in its approach.
It's set in the Rust Belt, industrial Pennsylvania, where Russell (Bale) works in a steel mill and worries about his little brother Rodney (Affleck), who's deep in debt to a local bookie (Dafoe). Then a late-night car crash lands Russell in prison, and when he's released everything has changed. He has no job, his girlfriend (Saldana) is now dating the local sheriff (Whitaker), and Rodney is paying off his debts by fighting in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Even more perilous is the fact that all of this puts the brothers on a collision course with vicious local redneck Harlan (Harrelson), who has no intention of making their lives easier.
The film opens with a particularly brutal display of Harlan's menace, so we know what's coming. And as everything goes from bad to worse for our two heroes, the film feels almost aggressively harsh. Of course, Bale and Affleck are terrific as these damaged men whose fierce bond both helps and puts them into danger. And both actors let us see beneath the surface as their lives fall apart. In what could be the thankless ex-girlfriend role, Saldana has some surprisingly powerful moments. And Harrelson is a deeply terrifying force to reckon with.
Filmmaker Cooper (Crazy Heart) continually shifts the film's pace, bluntly playing up the violent vengeance aspects of the story then undermining things with more darkly emotional plot turns. This sometimes feels a little heavy-handed, clearly directing us in ways that don't let us discover the film's themes on our own. Such an obvious approach makes it clear that the film won't end nicely, although there are some striking surprises along the way.
Run time: 116 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th December 2013
Box Office USA: $11.3M
Distributed by: Relativity Media
Production compaines: Energy Entertainment, Appian Way, Relativity Media, Scott Free Productions, Red Granite Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 53%
Fresh: 96 Rotten: 84
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Scott Cooper
Screenwriter: Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale as Russell Baze, Zoe Saldana as Lena Taylor, Woody Harrelson as Harlan DeGroat, Sam Shepard as Gerald 'Red' Baze, Willem Dafoe as John Petty, Forest Whitaker as Chief Wesley Barnes, Casey Affleck as Rodney Baze Jr., Boyd Holbrook as Tattooed Guy, Tom Bower as Dan Dugan, Mark Kubr as SWAT Team, Gordon Michaels as Bergen County Officer, Jack Erdie as Meth Guy, Efka Kvaraciejus as Brady, Nancy Mosser as Woman at Drive In
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