(director/writer: Scott Cooper; screenwriter: Brad Ingelsby; cinematographer: Masanobu Takayanagi; editor: David Rosenbloom; music: Dickon Hinchliffe; cast: Christian Bale (Russell Baze), Woody Harrelson (Harlan DeGroat), Casey Affleck (Rodney Baze Jr.), Forest Whitaker (Wesley Barnes), Willem Dafoe (John Petty), Zoë Saldana (Lena Taylor), Sam Shepard (Red Baze), Bingo O’Malley (Dad), Tom Bowers (Dan, bartender), Dendrie Tayor (Harlan’s Date); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jennifer Davisson Killoran/Leonardo DiCaprio/Ryan Kavanaugh/Ridley Scott/Michael Costigan; Relative Media; 2013)
“Lacks the gravitas to carry off its greater ambitions.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The sophomore film helmed by Scott Cooper(“Crazy Heart”) tries to do for the Iraqi War period in America what Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter (1978) did for that period during the Vietnam War. But even if it might have the right atmosphere, such as the appropriate deer hunting scenes, sincere acting and authenticity from characters and place, yet it lacks the gravitas to carry off its greater ambitions. It brings up that the glimmer of hope the nation had in 2008 with the new presidential hopeful Obama, at the Democratic Convention, calling for change upon his presidency, but that was something that never materialized for the downtrodden workers in the Rust Belt. The pic brings up that the sons of the working-class fight these bad wars but are given the short-end of the stick when they return looking for jobs. Unfortunately it never goes further with its social conscious message of the fall of the American Dream than the obvious and instead kicks its heels back to tell a typical action-pic story with a crowd-pleasing but far-fetched action-packed climax.

Writers Cooper and Brad Ingelsby track a close-knit mill family in North Braddock, Pennsylvania, where Russell Baze (Christian Bale) works as a welder in the local mill. In the impoverished town he is viewed as someone fortunate to have a steady job. When responsible for a fatal traffic accident while drunk, Russell is sent briefly to prison and his black live-in teacher girlfriend Lena (Zoë Saldana) dumps him for the much older police chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker). Meanwhile Russell’s mill worker dad (Bingo O’Malley) is on his death bed at home and his volatile younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), a returning three tours of duty vet from Iraq, is psychologically troubled over his war duty and refuses to work in the mill, instead he works for the unethical enterprising saloon-keeper John Petty (Willem Dafoe) fighting in bare-knuckle fights across the Appalachians. Owing John big money for going back on his word to dump fights, the hot-headed Rodney, against John’s warnings, gets booked to dump a fight in the desolate New Jersey Ramapo Mountains. He thereby hopes to make this his last fight as he squares things with John and believes John will square things with the crazed mountain boxing promoter Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). After the bout in the mountains, the extremely violent meth-head psychopath, Harlan DeGroat, kills John and Rodney vanishes. When the local police and the North Braddock police fail to respond with an arrest or answers, Russell goes to confront the dangerous hillbillies in the mountain with his brave Uncle Red (Sam Shepard).

Things get worked-out in simplistic action-pic terms, which shouldn’t disappoint the mainstream action fans. But if you were expecting more, this pic is disappointing and goes down as just another disposable film.