Out of the Furnace: Produced by DiCaprio, Directed by Scott Cooper

Russell Baze, the stalwart steel worker at the center of writer and director Scott Cooper’s new film, Out of the Furnace, plies a dying trade in an almost forgotten town, holding tight to traditional values like family, friendship and honor.

Christian Bale plays Russell, a quiet, contained man who has taken responsibility for his younger brother Rodney since childhood. Russell has accepted the hardships that his life presents with equanimity, but over the course of the film, he is forced to make decisions that will define who he is in a story that is at once tragic and inspirational.

As he did in his acclaimed first film, Crazy Heart, Cooper explores some of the darker corners of the American psyche, this time through the eyes of Russell and Rodney (Casey Affleck), an Iraq war vet unable to find an emotional or financial footing in the town in which he grew up.

Joining the cast immediately after completing The Dark Knight Rises, the third chapter in Christopher Nolan’s celebrated “Batman” franchise, Bale shed his character’s signature cowl and cape along with his larger-than-life bravado to play the role of an everyday hero.

Cooper says he appreciates movies in which the quiet drama of real life takes center stage. “In films today, you often find super-heroic people sporting outlandish costumes,” he says. “But to me, working-class Americans are the real heroes. This is the story of a man who works in a blast furnace, but it also deals with themes of justice, retribution and courage.”

Long drawn to the stories of people living on the margins of society, Cooper says, “I greatly respect anyone who works hard for a living and takes a sense of pride in what they do. The steel industry especially has always interested me. The type of work that these men do is at times very dangerous and the result of their work is something that touches us all on a daily basis.”

He decided to incorporate Russell Baze and the steadfast, largely invisible men of the Rust Belt into a saga that would examine some of the crushing changes he believes everyday Americans have struggled against in recent times.

The script had gone through several rounds of development before Cooper took it on and made it his own, according to co-producer Michael Ireland. “Scott Cooper brought a completely different dimension to it,” he says. “He’s a brilliant writer and an auteur in the truest sense of the word, which elevated everything about this project. He understands the human condition. As a former actor, he knows what motivates characters and he was able to infuse the script with real emotion.”

Cooper crafted a story about two brothers, each coming to terms in their own way with the fact that the way of life they’ve always known is disappearing. When the choices Rodney makes become irresponsible and even dangerous, Russell tries—and fails—to steer him in another direction.

Producers Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson Killoran believe that “the bond between two siblings is something that’s easily taken for granted as part of everyday life, and is also a theme that is difficult to depict authentically. We were struck by how adeptly Scott portrayed the power of family in this film.”

“This is a story about the kind of men you don’t often see anymore,” continues Ireland. “They know the value of hard work, family and loyalty. The younger brother ends up owing the wrong man money. When he suddenly disappears, his older brother has to decide what to do. The heart of the film is Russell’s emotional journey to redeem both himself and his brother.”

That “wrong man” is local crime boss Harlan DeGroat, played with searing acuity by Academy Award® nominee Woody Harrelson. DeGroat’s depraved avarice and Russell’s implacable moral code inevitably put them on a collision course that will alter the courses of both their lives.

Senseless Violence

Cooper’s film opens with a scene of senseless violence that introduces DeGroat’s penchant for casual cruelty and prepares the audience for what is to come. “The entire picture is an examination of the nature of violence in a society in which men have to solve their own problems,” the director says. “We see that today in Syria, in Cairo, in South Los Angeles. We see it in Chicago and Detroit. I thought, if I’m going to examine violence in this way, then I should open the movie in a very naturalistically violent way, a way that I hadn’t seen in a film before.”

The devastating incident takes place in a quintessentially American place—the local drive-in theater. “It seemed to be a really great place to let the audience know quickly that this is a very direct film,” Cooper says. “I thought it was a fitting introduction for the rest of the story and for a character who becomes pivotal to the action.”

Adds executive producer Jeff G. Waxman: “The opening scene is one of the most shocking and violent scenes in the movie. It sets the stage for what comes next in the film, because you know right away that this guy is not your average guy. Scott has created something really special, just like he did with Crazy Heart.”

Shooting in Braddock, Pennsylvania

The lack of choices available to the Baze brothers is an accurate depiction of real life in places like Braddock, Pennsylvania, where the story is set and the film was shot, says Ireland. “The movie is gritty and it’s dark, but there is also an element of hope to it. Even after all is said and done, life carries on in this town. There’s a next generation and there’s rebirth.”

DiCaprio and Killoran also found the location to be perfect, saying “Braddock, PA is a major character in the film; it has always been a critical member of the ensemble cast. The backdrop served the story in ways that no one could have anticipated. Shooting on location was always important to Scott, and therefore, us.”

Cooper maintained a clear and consistent vision for the film that inspired the cast and crew, according to Ireland. “He’s a great leader. He’s never down. When things go wrong, he stays positive. He gives everyone he works with enough freedom to do what they need to, but he’s always there when he’s needed. I’ve worked with Academy Award® winning directors and he’s right up there.”

Ireland says he felt privileged to be on the set during shooting. “At least once a day, I literally gasped because something was so exceptional. It’s very rare that the stars align in the way they have for this movie. It’s a gritty crime thriller imbued with the idea of hope and family, which makes it accessible to everybody. Because of the genuine emotion the actors bring to it, everybody is going to be able to relate to at least one person in this film. It’s very simply told, but there’s so much emotional complexity that it will knock you over.”

Another way the stars aligned was catching the attention of Pearl Jam’s front man Eddie Vedder whose song “Release” is featured in both the film and first trailer. This iconic song from the band’s multi-platinum debut album “Ten” had never been licensed for any medium before making its presence in the film. The themes and arc of the song parallel that of the film and were very personal to Vedder. He was so moved by what he saw that he agreed to re-record his vocals for the end titles to give it an authentic feel.

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