Scott Cooper didn’t mess around when it came to constructing the tone of his new film Out of the Furnace. From the very first scene – which features Woody Harrelson’s character verbally and physically abusing his girlfriend at a drive-in movie – the movie envelops the audience in an incredibly dark world and doesn’t let go until you’re well on your way home from the theater. And that was exactly what the director was going for.

With the film now out in limited release and set to expand on Friday, I recently had the chance to sit down one-on-one with the Crazy Heart director to talk in depth about his latest work. Read on to learn not only about the incredibly dark tone, but also the interesting period setting of the film and where the filmmaker started putting together the all-star cast.

After Crazy Heart, I’m sure you had tons of options on the table that you could’ve done. What was it about this one?

It was an embarrassment of riches, and it was daunting, and all things I didn’t write, and this particular project originated with another script that I thought was well written, but I didn’t want to direct, and Misters DiCaprio and Scott, Ridley Scott said to me, why don’t you just tell, have carte blanche with the script, and tell a story that just surrounds a man who gets out of prison and the loss of his brother and I thought, I can do that, but I have to personalize it, and then through great pain and hardship, do you bring your personal life to a story that well was represented by what you saw yesterday. So, but you know, it’s certainly a very original piece but one that’s personal and any time you put out a very personal story, it’s very harrowing to see it’s reception. Fortunately, I don’t read film criticism because I’m sure, movies like this are divisive, but it feels very good to express myself in this way.

And what was it about the original script that you didn’t necessarily connect with?

Oh, I just didn’t connect on an emotional level with the characters or the time period or the world, and you know, was struggling with what I wanted to tell, but because I’ve known people in my personal life who have been to prison, that I could start from that seed and then just really tell a story about what we as Americans have been undergoing these past five turbulent years, crumbling economy, fighting wars on two fronts, soldiers returning with PTSD.

And it’s interesting that it’s set in 2008, and you have that scene with Kennedy on the screen.

I wrote that specifically.

Can you talk a little about leading to that specific time period?

We all came into 2008 with a great deal of hope, and it’s now 2013 and while some of that hope has been met, we have a very divisive congress.

It’s a split country.

For sure, and the affordable care act that we all want to work and we hope works, but we want our representatives to be more responsible. We’re living in a very violent nation where guns are too easily accessible, high capacity magazines, and we are allowing our nation to almost default and it feels like there needs to be more accountability, so I feel this obligation to write and direct a film about that, for better or worse, and who knows how people respond to that. I’ve been fortunate that people have seemed to embrace the film, whether you, Eric, embrace the film or you distain it, I never want you to be indifferent to the film.

It’s about getting a reaction out of the audience.

There’s nothing worse than going to see a film and then turning to my wife as soon as it’s over and saying, "So, what are we eating?"

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