Tag Archives: Scott Cooper

Into the Woods


by Hope Madden

Hey, do you remember what a non-stop laugh riot Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace was? No? Well, compared to his latest — the long, long-awaited horror Antlers — it is.

The film takes us to depressed, smalltown Oregon at the height of the opioid crisis. Julia (Keri Russell) has returned after decades away. She lives with her brother, the town sheriff (Jesse Plemons), teaches middle school and deals with her demons.

Someone else’s demons are less metaphorical.

Cooper co-wrote the screenplay with Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca, who adapts his own short The Quiet Boy. The short uses fairy tale language to cast an image of abuse and horror — an idea Antlers plays with but eventually abandons for more heavy-handed parallels between child abuse, addiction and economic blight.

At the center of the action is 12-year-old Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) in a remarkable turn. Hollow-eyed and tragic, he conveys secrecy and desperation in equal measure. And as soon as your heart breaks for Lucas, you see his little brother Aidan (a crushingly adorable Sawyer Jones).

The boys have a problem that seems unsolvable, but it might have played better if Cooper could have kept the focus a little more on the monster movie and a little less on the metaphor.

There is a monster —literal and figurative—in this film. The creature effects for the literal monster amaze and unnerve, thanks to an impressive design and to emotional seeds planted early in the film by actor Scott Haze.

Antlers looks great, whether cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister’s camera lingers in the woods, tiptoes down hallways, or witnesses red-flare lit doom in a mine. But Cooper is an odd choice for a supernatural film, and perhaps an entirely wrong-headed filmmaker to take on the perspective of a child to tell a horrific fairy tale.

Whimsical he ain’t.

In the end, the film suffers from a lack of imagination. Cooper and team lead us through a dour metaphor full of familiar genre tropes and leave us with a brutal, great-looking, well-acted lecture.

Still Searching


by Hope Madden

Hey, Christian Bale and Ben Foster are in another Western. Remember how fun 3:10 to Yuma was?!

Well, writer/director Scott Cooper is a very serious man. If there is one thing you won’t call his films—Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, Black Mass and his latest, Hostiles—it’s a laugh riot.

Hostiles is a morose Western with too-obvious intentions. Thanks to Bale and cinematographer Mesanobu Takayanagi, though, the result is a graceful if revisionist image. With Takayanagi’s help, Cooper recalls the best of John Ford’s The Searchers, and with Bale’s help he rectifies its worst.

Facing retirement from a lifetime of warring with Native Americans across the West, Capt. Joseph Blocker (Bale) has one final assignment: escort the ailing Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to Montana so he can die with his people.

After many years of hatred and resentment toward Native Americans in general and Yellow Hawk in particular, Blocker wants no part in this “parade.” But he is a good soldier.

The journey offers opportunities for many an adventure, the first of which is the meeting of homesteader Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike). Blocker’s party finds her in her burned-out home, but we already know what happened thanks to the profoundly brutal attack that opened the film.

Over the course of the film’s 133-minute running time, lessons are learned, each one coming at a very bloody cost. Though Bale and most of the supporting players deliver quietly devastating performances, their arcs feel more than forced. They feel patronizing.

Mainly that’s because the Native American actors have no such arcs. Studi, along with Adam Beach, Tanaya Beatty, Q’orianka Kilcher and Xavier Horsechief—the prisoners—are one-dimensional beings of pure wisdom, compassion and nobility.

Which is no doubt preferable to the being nameless, bloodthirsty monsters that stand in for Apache characters.

Cooper sets his tale at a bitter transition in American history when civilization was beginning to overtake the Wild West and people like Blocker were no longer sure of their purpose, no longer comfortable with their past. Like Blocker, Cooper seems determined to right a wrong but, again like his character, he doesn’t seem to know quite how to do it.

A Bloody Communion

Black Mass

by Hope Madden

Johnny Depp is a remarkable talent whose film choices can be frustrating. Who’s to complain, just because he often buries his unique take on human foibles underneath quirky caricatures in wigs and eyeliner or a handlebar moustache?

I am – but not today. In Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, Depp may undergo a physical transformation, but it’s his skill and authenticity that leave an impression.

In this biopic, Depp plays Southie mob king James “Whitey” Bulger, a “ripened psychopath” who strikes a sweet deal with neighborhood pal turned FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).

Front to back, Black Mass spills over with reminders of other films – in particular, The Departed and, thanks in part to the outstanding soundtrack, American Hustle. How could it avoid comparisons? How many new ways are there to tell a story about dodgy criminal/FBI alliances or the Irish mob in Boston?

Wisely, Cooper’s focus is on the complex relationship between Bulger and Connolly. Edgerton handles his character arc, from misguided idealist to blindly loyal accomplice, with subtlety, but this is Depp’s movie.

Depp’s nuanced evolution from friendly neighborhood sociopath to cruel monster leaves chills. He can turn on a dime, as he does in the now required Joe Pesci-esque episode. (Just substitute “funny how?” with “family recipe.”) But the more powerful scenes are the ones that sneak up on you – a situation with a colleague’s step daughter, or Bulger’s moments alone with Connolly’s wife.

The balance of the cast manages to keep pace with Depp’s forbidding performance – Rory Cochrane, Corey Stoll, Dakota Johnson, Juno Temple, and Peter Sarsgaard are all particularly impressive in small roles.

For all the truly fine performances, Cooper’s somber effort can’t seem to define itself. There are flashes – frames resembling a cross between a crime scene photo and an old picture postcard; or individual, eerily crafted moments – but the effort on the whole limits itself to by-the-numbers storytelling.

Depp, on the other hand, sporting vampiric blue contacts that emphasize Bulger’s eviscerating contempt and barely restrained violence, excels. Black Mass may not be quite able to separate itself from the pack, but Depp’s performance will leave a mark.


Tough Time for a Brother’s Keeper

Out of the Furnace

by Hope Madden

Just in time for the holidays, a bleak look at desperation, blood ties, masculinity and loyalty. Welcome to Braddock, PA and Out of the Furnace.

Part Deer Hunter, part Winter’s Bone, Scott Cooper’s new film casts a haunted image of ugliness scarring natural beauty, whether it’s the steel town petering out and leaving a rusted carcass in a Pennsylvania valley, or the human nastiness up in the hills on the Jersey border.

The tale follows a pair of beleaguered brothers in America’s disappearing rust belt. It’s a deceptively simple story of being your brother’s keeper, but Cooper’s meandering storyline keeps you guessing, often entranced. Nothing is as simple as it seems, although there is an inevitability to everything that makes it feel strangely familiar.

Cooper’s camera evokes a palpable sense of place, and his script positions the film firmly and believably – but without a heavy hand – in a clear time period. The setting itself is so true and absorbing that many of the film’s flaws can almost be forgiven.

At the core of Furnace’s many successes are some powerful performances. Both Christian Bale and the endlessly under-appreciated Casey Affleck, as Russell and Rodney Baze, respectively, dig deep to uncover the anguish and resilience at the heart of the siblings’ relationship and struggles. Bale, in particular, smolders with a tenderness and deep love that is heartbreaking.

On the other hand, Woody Harrelson is just plain scary. As the villain (and excellently named) Harlan DeGroat, Harrelson goes all out, leaves nothing behind. Harlan is a Bad MoFo, no doubt, and Harrelson leaves no scenery unchewed.

Cooper stumbles here and there with his storytelling, though. There is some heavy-handed symbolism, and a letter written from one brother to another that’s almost too clichéd and trite to accept in the otherwise articulate piece of filmmaking.

Just four years ago, in his feature film debut Crazy Heart, Cooper led Jeff Bridges to his first Oscar, and Maggie Gyllenhaal to her first nomination. His sophomore effort is less assured, as if he’s trying too hard. His ability to conjure such a vivid place and time impresses, and both Bale and Affleck are characteristically wonderful, but the director can’t seem to reign in the entire cast, and he borrows too freely from other (excellent) movies.

While the stumbles aren’t crippling, they keep Out of the Furnace from the greatness it otherwise might have reached.