The film follows the life of Russell Baze, played by Christian Bale, a hard working mill worker that has followed his dying father’s blue-collar footsteps. Russell also has a brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), a troubled soldier who between his military tours is mixed up in an underground bare-knuckle boxing world orchestrated by John Petty (William Dafoe). When John uses Rodney to try and work off a debt with a Hillbilly Crime Boss by the name of Harlan Degroat (Willie Harrelson), the courtship gets a bit sour and Russell steps in to make things right with or without the laws help.
After the intense opening scene, Pearl Jam kicks on with the movie title setting an Americana tone with static shots of crowded railways, power lines, and backdrops of exuberant factory smoke. It is clear from the start that they are located in the economically depressed Rust Belt, as you can almost taste the urban decay. The films subtle political undertones are ostensible, but never brought as a focal point to deviate from the actual message.
The cast was very impressive with what they could work with, as you would assume with this caliber of veteran actors. The performance by Willie Harrelson was paramount and triggered an anxiety of his unpredictable behavior whenever he was on screen. The rest of the performers made it effortless for the audience to feel for their misfortunes, as their struggles were very genuine and acceptable. The majority of the characters in this story are sensible in their own right based on their experiences and current situation, but many of their decisions are still debatable and reap consequences.
Most of the film is relatively mild mannered aside from a few fights and uneasy stares. Eventually everything is thrown into slightly predictable emotional and psychological turmoil that brings the story and all the players true identities to the table.