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Despite “Out of the Furnace” being one of the most dark, intense movies of this awards season, the mood was jovial November 9 at its AFI Festival premiere at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre.

Director Scott Cooper laughed and hugged it out with stars Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Tom Bower and Forest Whitaker on the red carpet and introduced Casey Affleck at the screening as “the younger brother to Ben Affleck” (star Christian Bale couldn’t attend because he is filming Ridley Scott’s “Exodus”).

“I’m often asked what it’s like to direct a cast like this and I say, well, it’s what I assume it’s what driving a Maserati would be like; I don’t know because I drive a Prius.” Cooper said before the screening. “No histrionics, no acting with a capital A, but it’s searing and it’s honest and I have to tell you, take after take after take, there was hope there.”

He added that he had a hard time deciding on a follow-up to his 2009 Jeff Bridges starrer “Crazy Heart,” so he said he “chose to tell a very personal story.”

“I thought that it was important that I shot it like just what was happening these past five years in America,” he said. “It’s been a turbulent five years. It’s not lost on you, but we’ve had a crumbling economy, we’ve been fighting wars on two fronts, we’ve had soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan that suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and have a very difficult time assimilating back into society and I’m sure you all know that we happen to live in one of the most violent nations on Earth. So what does that all add up to? Well, in my hands, it adds up to the feel-good movie of the year.”

(Producer Ryan Kavanaugh of Relativity also made light of the revenge drama’s subject matter in his speech, referencing the open bar at the after party because viewers would need a drink after the screening).

Actor Whitaker also stars in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and produced “Fruitvale Station,” both of which are generating awards buzz. Given the strong acting performances in “Furnace” (Variety film critic Scott Foundas praised Bale, Affleck and Harrelson specifically in his review), does Whitaker think this film will join this list?

“I think that Scott’s made a powerfully-crafted movie and I think these are some of the best performances I’ve seen this year,” Whitaker said. “I’m really proud to have done ‘The Butler’ and I’m extremely proud to have produced ‘Fruitvale Station,’ but I’m also proud to have a small part in this film because it has something to say, it supports a message and these artists did amazing work.”

“Out of the Furnace” opens wide on December 6.

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