Scott Cooper may not be a household name like Jordan Peele or Christopher Nolan, but he has directed five movies spanning several genres. From revenge thrillers to horror movies, Westerns to crime dramas, Scott Cooper movies have shown a willingness to explore new creative territory with each new project. This versatility makes him an underrated filmmaker who deserves more appreciation for his eclectic nature.
Ranking Scott Cooper’s directorial efforts from worst to best is an interesting exercise, as he has helmed some great movies throughout his career. Even his weaker titles offer something interesting in their ambition. Meanwhile, his most significant accomplishments (including one movie that scored Jeff Bridges his lone Oscar win) reaffirm why he should be on the tip of the tongue of more movie buffs.
Let’s look at these highs and lows in ranking Scott Cooper movies, starting with one of his most recent and unusual directorial efforts.
For Antlers, Cooper turned to horror filmmaking to tell the story of a young boy tormented by his father, who is shapeshifting into a Wendigo. The Wendigo is a creature from Native American folklore that is said to haunt the forests of North America. It is described as a human-like creature with long, sharp claws and antlers and is displayed to feast on human flesh. Starring Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons, Antlers is a horror film that explores the long-term effects of abuse and trauma. Set against the backdrop of the Oregon wilderness, the film is a visually stunning tale of terror and redemption.
Antlers fail to deliver on its promise of being a suspenseful and scary movie as a creature feature. However, its exploration of the long-term effects of living with an abusive parent is thought-provoking and well done.
Although Graham Greene, an Oscar-nominee, supporting role provides some much-needed exposition on the indigenous culture, his performance is ultimately disappointing. It feels like he is only there to serve the white characters and provide them with information. Additionally, the scares in the film are lackluster and unimpressive. The only thing remotely unsettling is the sight of mutilated bodies being torn apart by the Wendigo.
Cooper’s shift into a different filmmaking mode for Antlers is admirable, but it’s not enough to make this one of the best Scott Cooper movies or a must-watch.
As he nears the end of his career, Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) is assigned to escort Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a dying elderly prisoner, to Montana. This journey forms the basis of Hostiles, a brutal revisionist Western that exposes the period’s unforgivable racism and sadistic violence. Despite having talented performers like Wes Studi, the indigenous characters in Hostiles are not given much depth. It is still, ultimately, a Western where White people are the focus, making Hostiles more subversive in theory than in practice.
Even though the Wild Wild West was dangerous, the on-screen suffering and dialogue about violence didn’t necessarily go anywhere unique or exciting. It was all in service of the same idea as A Million Ways to Die in the West, that the Wild Wild West sure could be dangerous.
Hostiles is a Western with some very dark themes. Rosamund Pike’s supporting character Rosalie Quaid is the only one who stands out. Everyone else feels pretty flat and uninteresting. The ideas behind the movie are good, but it doesn’t quite manage to stand out from all the other Westerns. Not my favorite of all Scott Cooper Movies.
Check out our review on Hostiles on YouTube.
3) Black Mass
In Black Mass, Johnny Depp plays Whitey Bulger, a criminal mastermind working as an FBI informant for longtime friend John Connelly (Joel Edgerton). The movie is set in Boston, Massachusetts, and tells the story of Bulger’s crimes and how he managed to evade capture for so long. The following story is a gripping crime drama exploring Connelly’s morally complicated character. Edgerton delivers a strong performance that shows how this guy could believe in the informant’s plan, even as Bulger gets away with murder.
Black Mass is a movie that looks great. The textures and colors fit well into the 1970s crime dramas. However, the story structure is problematic. Several characters end up underdeveloped, including Bulger’s associate Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons). Some members of the cast sound more natural with a Boston accent than others. Benedict Cumberbatch, unfortunately, sounds quite strange in his attempt at the dialect. Buy, hey, it’s one of my favorite Scott Cooper movies; I love true story movies.
2) Crazy Heart
Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for his role in Crazy Heart, but this work is one of Scott Cooper’s movies that has since faded from pop culture consciousness. That’s a shame because it’s a great story about a boozy old country singer who falls for a single mom (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Crazy Heart is a dark and nuanced film that refuses to give the protagonist a perfect, tidy conclusion. This commitment to realism makes Cooper’s debut directorial effort so remarkable.
In a career full of memorable roles, Jeff Bridges gives one of his best performances ever in Crazy Heart. He brings years of weariness and experience to the character, just from how he walks around a room. With great detail, Bridges creates a truly remarkable feeling that is unforgettable.
Crazy Heart may not be the most original film out there, but it features some great performances by Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The soundtrack is also excellent, with various country tunes that will get stuck in your head. If you’re looking for a feel-good movie with great music, Crazy Heart is one of the best Scott Cooper movies, definitely worth checking out.
1) Out of the Furnace
In December 2013, Out of the Furnace was released to little fanfare. The movie failed to make a big splash at the box office or garner much attention from award shows. It is a shame because Out of the Furnace is one of the director’s most remarkable movies, my favorite of all Scott Cooper Miami movies.
Set in Pennsylvania, Out of the Furnace tells the story of Russell Baze (played by Christian Bale), a steel mill worker whose brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) has just been released from prison. After working as a fighter for the notorious criminal Harlan DeGroat, Rodney goes missing. Russell begins a search for his sibling, hoping to find out what happened to him.
Liam Neeson stars as Baze, a man on a mission to find the person who killed his wife. The screenplay by Cooper and Brad Ingelsby injects no sense of hope into Baze’s vengeance-fueled hunt, creating a dark and gritty atmosphere. It is not your typical Liam Neeson revenge fantasy – instead, it’s a depiction of a man with so few options that this extreme route seems like the only logical place to go.
Poverty is a bleak and challenging reality for many people. Cooper highlights this bleakness with an emphasis on how poverty affects the course of one’s life. However, he never forgets the humanity of the people who occupy his frame. A pivotal conversation between Baze and ex-girlfriend Lena Taylor (Zoe Saldana) underscores the unspoken yearnings of both characters.
It’s great to see Christian Bale in Out of the Furnace, adhering to the grounded nature of the film by forgoing layers of makeup or an extreme transformation in his body. Reduced to just himself, Bale still excels as a performer slipping into a man defined by loss and desperation. His grim yet discernibly human quality combines excellent performances from the rest of the cast to make this a film worth watching.
Bale’s work in Out of the Furnace is excellent, and it is a mystery how this film flew under so many people’s radars. Scott Cooper is a great filmmaker, and this film deserves a second chance.
Scott Cooper movies know how to make an impression and send you to a different reality.