‘Mayor of Hell’ Asks Oscar Voters to Remember ‘Out of the Furnace’

'Mayor of Hell' Asks Oscar Voters

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.

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  1. Sonny says:

    He is all show and no substance. I was in that town for months all over and never even saw him. He is going to run for office someday on the cartoon character he has created. All he is trying to do is attract whacko suburbanite urban pioneers. Gentrification monger

  2. Gail Ward says:

    I was born in Braddock, as were my brother and our parents. It breaks my heart to see what has happened to that city. The movie “Out of the Furnace” was dark, brutally violent, depressing–perfectly mirroring the reality of 15104 today. Mayor Fetterman and the good people who live in and believe in the city are angels–great big angels fighting the big fight! Bravo!

  3. Guy says:

    I just watched the movie and couldn’t help googling “North Braddock” written on the police car. The vision of poverty and the story of the people portrayed in this film made me look for answers to the “where” “how” and “why” questions. It is a great movie and that’s the kind of contribution a movie should have. Keep the good work going Scott and keep fighting, dear “Mayor of hell”.

  4. Ken Petri says:

    Bravo Fetterman. Well said.

  5. John Desiderato says:

    I grew up in the town of Braddock. A great uncle was a Policeman, my Grandfather was Fire Chief for 15 plus years! I have the fondest memories walking down Braddock Ave holding paps hand, smelling the peanuts roasting, the Italian stores cheese and other delectable items. When I left the Army Military Police I was offered a job by then Chief Mears to bust heads on a walking beat and clean up the city, I guess I should havetaken the offer. Maybe the city I love would have had a chance… It makes me soo sad, it was a great place to grow up…

  6. Al Videc says:

    In addition to the former post, if I’m not mistaken, the house where Russell and Rodney Blaze lived in the film, could have been in the same neighborhood, where my dad lived in North Braddock, when he first met my mother in the late 1940’s.

  7. Al Videc says:

    First off, I was born in Braddock, Pennsylvania, where much of the movie “Out of the Furnace” was filmed. My father’s side of my family lived there, so I visited the town often in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I have been living in the Seattle, Washington area for several decades, but I have gone back there several times over the years. My father, grandfather and a few uncles worked at steel mills in Braddock and seeing the devastation of the town this past year during a visit shocked me. It’s one of the worst examples of how the steel industry leaving the Pittsburgh area had destroyed yet another community. Back in the day – my days – in Braddock, it was a average and normal prospering steel mill town. Now, it’s as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped on it. Seeing the movie “Out of the Furnace” from a plush and new movie theater in Issaquah, Washington left me stunned seeing such loss and utter heartache portrayed in this film.

  8. Diann says:

    I have been to Braddock many times. It is a dying city. They don’t even have a hospital anymore. I see new construction, but wonder who will live there and what business would want to be there? I don’t like going thru here it’s so depressing.

  9. Phil Coleman says:

    The violent history of Braddock began one sweltering July day in 1755 when the largest British army seen in the Americas was defeated, scalped, mutilated, and burned alive by native foes. Well over 500 lives were lost, their bones surfacing from time to time as railroads, steel mills, and the town itself grew on top of this unhallowed ground.

  10. An appreciative fan. cindylorraine brown says:

    Mayor Fetterman is a shining example of humanity.

  11. Leigh-Anne says:

    You are the definition of a Pittsburgher – tough, but caring. Strong, but sensitive. The world needs more John Fettermans. I’m pulling for you and your town, sir!

  12. tapanjena says:

    Someone staying thousands of miles just got goose bumps after reading it.

  13. bill ankney says:

    If we only had these kind of politicians as representative’s controlling the whole u.s . This guy really cares about what hes doing for a little town that everyone has forgotten

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  15. ANNETTE FUSCA says:


  16. R. Paul Dhillon says:

    Well said Mr. Mayor! You should also take upon yourself to be the town’s film critic cause you have a wonderful way with prose and definite point of view! I will certainly check out the film after reading your take on the film.

  17. Traci Radzyniak says:

    Much of this film was also shot in North Braddock, the town adjacent to Braddock, PA.

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