Can Scott Cooper Climb 'Out of the Furnace' and into the Oscar Race?
by Joey Magidson
December 11, 2013
Over the past year months, one of the harder to pin down titles for me happened to be Scott Cooper's Out of the Furnace. Up until recently, there was a pretty big split in terms of how my fellow prognosticators saw it in the Oscar race. There were Best Picture mentions here and there, all the way to folks like me who had it getting shut out. After almost arriving late last year for Oscar contention (which probably wouldn't have worked), the film hit theaters this past weekend, hoping to gain some traction in the race. The flick is an interesting case study too, since it was once an unseen contender thought to be a dark horse for awhile.
Now, after a debut screening at AFI Fest and various press screenings (including one I attended), the buzz has died down considerably. Sure, some folks are still claiming that Christian Bale gives a career best performance (he's very good, but he's been better) and Casey Affleck deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination (he's good too, but not nomination worthy), but those predicting it for Best Picture or that Zoe Saldana could surprisingly pop up in Supporting Actress have quieted down for the most part. That being said, the Academy could very well be drawn to the star power on display.
Personally, this is one of the more disappointing movies of the year for me. Not that it's a bad movie, but that it's only a decent one. The film doesn't use its top notch cast very well (which also includes Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, and Willem Dafoe in supporting turns), Cooper's direction is inconsistent, and the screenplay thinks that it's more powerful than it actually is. Sure, the Eddie Vedder music on the soundtrack gives it a certain mood, but the flick itself doesn't draw you in at all. You see the bleakness at times, but you never quite feel it. You keep watching, waiting for it to get better and become the player it probably should have been, but it just doesn't happen. If for no other reason than quality, I have my doubts about any Oscar attention. Not everyone agrees with me, though that list is whittling down by the day, it seems.
The argument in favor of citations coming for Out of the Furnace isn't a tremendously strong one, but there is a case to be made that a performance could be noticed. The days of it being a Best Picture contender are now gone, but if the acting branch is determined to reward either Affleck or Bale for their body of work in 2013 (the former for this and David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints and the latter for this and David O. Russell's American Hustle), there's an off chance that this could be the place. At its best, the movie is a showcase for their performances. Sadly, it's not enough of the time in this surprising let down.
On the flip side, you can simply point to its struggle to break the 60% Fresh mark (it wound up barely cracking 50%) on Rotten Tomatoes as a reason why this film is going nowhere, awards wise. Another fact is that the box office was rather terrible for the flick. A great movie/critical darling can overcome that, but a film like this can't. Also, those aforementioned critics haven't embraced it with the early critics awards/precursors, having completely ignored it. I had once pegged its chances on if the National Board of Review cited it in some way. Well, the NBR announcement came and went (I'm still pleased that they managed to embrace Spike Jonze's Her like they did) with Out of the Furnace nowhere to be found. Expect that to happen an awful lot this season.
Had the movie gone over like gangbusters on the festival circuit and seemed prime to be a box office success (early on some people speculated it could be this year's The Town, a distinction that now seems unlikely), then a more varied group of nominations could have been in play. You would have seen campaigns for Best Picture, Best Director for Cooper, Best Actor for Bale, Best Supporting Actor for either Affleck or Harrelson, Best Supporting Actress for Saldana, and Best Original Screenplay for Cooper and Brad Inglesby. Now, Bale has a better shot with American Hustle, while Affleck or Saldana can only hope to somehow take advantage of the weaker/more fluid bottom sections of the Supporting categories. Other than that, Out of the Furnace is a pretty prime candidate for a shut out.
When all is said and done, the smart money is one zero Oscar mentions for this film, but nothing is completely impossible at this stage of the game. Had the movie been better received, I think it would have been more thoroughly in the mix, but the final product is something that's rather easy to move on from, especially when you're considering other bigger and better contenders. Out of the Furnace was hoping to head into the fire of the Academy Awards race, but now it just seems headed into the incinerator.