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Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper has been prepping his follow-up feature Out of the Furnace for quite a while now, but all that waiting seems to have been worth it-- he's assembled a cast that includes Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana and Sam Shepard, for a thriller about two brothers caught up in a crime ring in the mill towns of western Pennsylvania. Shooting on the project began last week, and to announce the project Relativity Media also added two more big names to the cast list: Woody Harrelson and Forest Whitaker.

Harrelson had been rumored for a role a while back, to play the head of the gang that Affleck's younger brother character winds up running around with while his old brother (Bale) is in prison. The release confirms Harrelson is indeed playing the role, as a character deliciously named Harlan DeGroat. Whitaker will be stepping in on the other side of the law, playing the county sheriff. Saldana plays a love interest for Bale-- will she wait for him while he's in the slammer, or cause more trouble by moving on?-- and Shepard plays the brothers' uncle, Red.

Everything about this movie sounds covered in coal dust and misery, but I wonder if Cooper will be able to give it the necessary grit-- his Crazy Heart got a lot of details right about country music, but it was also a little glossier and more sentimental than you might expect. But after having such success with his directorial debut, Cooper seems to be moving up into something more ambitious and darker-- and with a cast like that assembled, you can't help but be anxious to see how it turns out.

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