I grew up across the river from Braddock, the nose-to-the-grind location for “Out of the Furnace.” My father and six millworker siblings died of cancer, collateral from years of breathing red soot from Dorothy 6, the world’s largest blast furnace, daily coating our cars and hair. What oppressed me was not the boarded-house paralysis of home-front poverty, but the survival mentality of a steel-town culture, at war with itself.
Money was the war’s prize, always short, borrowed, bartered or lost in bookie pools on Steeler Sunday or in steelyard brawls fueled by ethnic enmity. And always the soot blinding us to upward mobility and the promised exodus from the Furnace.
Brad Ingelsby and Scott Cooper’s script bites with documentarian teeth. Back-dropped by Cooper’s own family tragedies in Virginia’s Rust Belt, it is a poignant study of loss, with images so visceral; the ensemble of miscreants and fallen angels mirror the dysfunction of America with its heart broken — fighting two wars, a broken economy, broken health care, broken gun laws and its most virulent indictment, a broken moral compass.
The poetic transitions are evocatively powerful — a deer, spared Russell’s blood-letting as Rodney spills blood in a fight ring; meth pouring into a spoon, juxtaposed to smelting ore in a cauldron. The Furnace melts a community’s heart and soul.
Not all is loss on the dead-end road to vengeance. Russell’s ex-girlfriend Lena’s pregnancy inspires hope with Sheriff Barnes’ admonishment, “let’s make this right,” providing the script its re-tooled moral compass and in Russell’s final mind-imprisonment, a glimmer of redemption.
James Ragan is the winner of the Emerson Poetry Prize and is the author of eight books including “The World Shouldering I.” He is the subject of a documentary “Flowers and Roots” (Arina Films, 2013).