After initially being released back in 2015, Nicholas Bushman’s Union Furnace finally gets a rightful Blu-ray/DVD on August 15, 2017 via Metropol Pictures. The story of a small town crook offered the chance of a lifetime in a game that would have him wager his life, starring Mike Dwyer (Sandbar 2012, Stranger In The Dunes 2016), Seth Hammond (acting debut), Katie Keene (ClownTown 2016, DriverX 2017), Kevin Crowley (Carol 2015, Goat 2016), and veteran actor Keith David (The Thing 1982, Platoon 1986), Union Furnace is a look at moral deprivation that is not afraid to push a few buttons…
Union Furnace is, first and foremost, a film more focused on character over plot. That is not to say the film is plot-less; rather that it lets its plot take a backseat to examining the characters who live at its forefront. This has both advantages and disadvantages, as any film with such a focus does – when pulled off without a hitch, it can make for a film that is complex and inviting. Sometimes, however, when the execution of such a vision falters, audiences can be left with a film that is unable to deliver on the promises it clearly lays out.
This is not a film that fits neatly into either of these two categories – it is instead a decidedly mixed bag. To its credit, Union Furnace is absolutely confident in what it is presenting, which helps make the film stronger and more exciting. The opening scenes establish its world, its tone, and its visual style quickly. In particular, its visual imagery is sharp and pointed – the cinematography is more than just clean, it is precisely chosen for emotive effect and only grows more so as the film progresses.
The visual style starts out interesting, and from there descends to emphasize the film’s more hellish elements in line with the experiences of its characters. Is this a particularly inspired example of cinematography? No, it is generally nothing groundbreaking – the cinematic landscape today is rife with films that do similar things. But familiarity does not diminish the effectiveness of such a technique when it is pulled off well, and it is here – the visuals are an absolute complement to the themes that the film is attempting to convey, and help give it an engrossing punch that it often needs.
Such a punch is needed because Union Furnace unfortunately falters when it comes to its characters, and given that this is very much a character-led film, this does not help its ultimate impact. While the characters themselves are well-defined, they are not consistently well realized. This is largely not the fault of the actors, but rather the writing – it is often clear that said actors are doing their best to sell the material, but the hackneyed dialogue is often beyond saving. Too often is the writing obvious and clumsy, making the characters seem too much like artificial creations. It is thus no coincidence that the movie is at its strongest in the moments without dialogue, when it is allowing its visuals to do all the communicating.
Union Furnace is actually very effective at non-verbal communication, owing again to the obvious level of thought and care that went into crafting its cinematography. It unfortunately stumbles because it does not lean into this strength to nearly the degree that it should.
Where there is another sharp divide in effectiveness is in the film’s use of music. Like its dialogue, the film’s background score is often entirely predictable and underwhelming, drawing too much attention to itself for this very reason. However, its use of licensed music is nuanced and powerful, again often lining up with the moments in which the film is trying to communicate away from traditional plot mechanics and writing crutches. It uses it when it is at its most formative and stylized, and thus when it is also at its most interesting.
Really, Union Furnace is the story of two films, or at the very least of one film divided against itself. There is a lot to enjoy about it, but it can be hard to get through the fact that it has little consistency in the quality of its execution. Its style and its commitment to its themes are frequently excellent, while the legitimately interesting story it tries to tell is slightly let down. For that, CrypticRock gives Union Furnace 3 out of 5 stars.