At 6 feet 8 and 320 lbs., John Fetterman isn’t your average politician. Back in 2005, the mayor of Braddock, Pa., inked the town’s zip code, 15104, on his left forearm. Since then, he has tattooed the dates of every murder committed in the small industrial town on the underside of his right arm. Braddock also happens to be the location of Scott Cooper’s new film, “Out of the Furnace.” In a Variety exclusive, Fetterman offers his take on Relativity’s revenge drama, which has recently struggled at the box office. It’s also worth noting that star Christian Bale has the same zip code tattooed on his neck in the film.
During my career, Rolling Stone labeled me, Mayor of Hell; the New York Times, Mayor of Rust. Last month, the voters of my community again honored me with the simple Mayor John, for what will be my 3rd consecutive term in office.
However, the most apt title happens to also be the most recent: “Mayor of ‘Out of the Furnace’” – the new film from “Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper that both was shot and takes place in my community of Braddock, Pa.
I feared it might struggle to find a wider audience at the box office, and certainly not because of its cast — Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana- a roll call of some of the best actors working today.
“Furnace” would be a tough watch for how it unflinchingly reflects an unbearably dark, unforgiving, reality that is nearly devoid of possibility. This is the time of the year where folks wants to see the good citizens of Bedford Falls save George Bailey, or Charlie Brown and the gang love a little tree no one else wanted.
Understandably, many would rather not set foot into a bleak world where most of the social contracts in America are void and rusted through.
If the story of a Braddock, and towns like her, is indeed worth telling, there couldn’t be a more eloquent, forceful and honest interpretation than what Mr. Cooper and his three leads have delivered in “Out of the Furnace.”
Woody Harrelson releases a maniacal, career-defining performance by channeling unhinged sociopath Harlan DeGroat; a man willing to murder over a mere debt.
As mayor, our real-life DeGroats are often unwilling to honor that modest threshold; three months ago, a young man executed in his front yard in Braddock, while his own mother slept inside the house.
Casey Affleck’s utterly heartbreaking portrayal of Rodney Baze as a shattered Iraq veteran is tribute a friend who served a brutal 15 months in Iraq, coping with PTSD, and freshly rejected for a menial job paying $9 an hour.
One month ago, several of my officers crawled on their hands and knees into a burning building to save a woman who was mere seconds away from dying. These men risked it all for a job that pays a paltry $10 an hour with no benefits. Sadly, that is all we can afford to pay these brave men.
So it’s through this lens I celebrate Christian Bale’s virtuosity in capturing the simple, damaged man, Russell Baze who breaks his back for a living and is also willing to risk it all simply because it’s the right thing to do. Many critics have called Bale’s performance in ‘Furnace’ the finest in an already amazing and accomplished career; it’s indisputably his most authentic.
In my own career as mayor, we have thankfully won more than we have lost. However, we push against an insurmountable deficit of accrued hardship. I am never more than one phone call away from this grim realization.
This past Friday, on the very day“Out of the Furnace” premiered; one of the new businesses we have been able to bring into town was robbed and now may or may not reopen.
And so it goes in a community that lost a staggering 90% of its population, businesses, buildings, and homes. The poverty, chaos, and insecurity seep in and saturate nearly all facets of life in Braddock.
This is a central narrative of the American experience.
Scott Cooper, his extraordinary cast, and Relativity took a huge risk and beautifully captured the unvarnished reality of what happens when a family, a town, and an honorable way of life are allowed to fail.
It’s unlikely the opinions of a 3rd-rate, small town mayor carry much weight with those who make movie award nominations. However, it truly would be an injustice for this film, director, and these actors not to be formally recognized on behalf of the Braddock community they have so powerfully presented.