First Hit: Although there is some very good acting, this film floundered and was unorganized.
Unorganized for me means that there seemed to be two different films or storylines, mashed together by the supposed storyline written by Brad Ingelsby and Director Scott Cooper.
This story line is revenge. However, some of the shots by Cooper were fantastic. For instance, the opening shot, where the camera starts from high and moves into the back of a car sitting in a drive in movie theater is really good. The shot shows the types of cars/trucks while the sense of segregated community (separated by their older cars) but all watching the same film.
The second scene is inside the car where the next bit of dialogue and action sets up the angry uncaring life of Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). He comes from the hills in New Jersey where law and order is defined by who is toughest and meanest, not the police. This view of Harlan and his cohorts is one film.
The other film is about Russell Baze (Christian Bale), his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), and Russell’s love Lena Taylor (Zoe Saldana). The mashup is Rodney’s struggle to find a life after a number of tours of Iraq. Being angry and lost he gambles, gets into debt to John Petty (Willem Dafoe) who is indebted to Harlan. This is where the stretch doesn't work.
I won’t move the storyline any more here, but despite the wonderful individual performances the story felt disjointed and forced.
Harrelson was in the vein of his roles in “Natural Born Killers” and “Zombieland”; dark, caring only about himself, and mean. He does this well and I like it. Bale is fantastic as a guy trying to do right by his family and girl while be caught by his wish to take care of his brother. Affleck is strong as a smart good looking guy carrying the struggles and demons he builds through war and family life. Saldana is wonderful as a woman who wants stability and family in her life. Dafoe is very good as the guy who owns a bar but makes book on the side. Forest Whitaker is intense and wonderful as a friend of Baze and as Police Chief Wesley Barnes in a small steel town in Pennsylvania where the Baze’s live. Sam Shepard is strong in a minor role as a Baze relative. Ingelsby wrote an interesting script but it was either this script or the direction of Cooper that had it go off track.
Overall: In parts, great. As a whole the film was mostly incongruent.