Skip to main content

Review: Out of the Furnace


The town that Out of the Furnace takes place is one of those communities that hasn't quite died yet, but there is no hope for a future. The steelmill dominates life and once the mill closes, the outlook is grim. With few to no prospects left, locals resort to gambling and underground activities for cash. Russell Baze (Christian Bale) pushes on, working extra shifts at the mill, hoping for the best and saving for a child with his girlfriend, Lena (Zoe Saldana).

Russell possesses a zen-like acceptance that things will eventually work out, despite his entire life proving that the opposite is true. His father was a lifer in the steel mills and is dying with what little dignity he can cling to. Rounding out that East of Eden relationship is younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck). Rather than submit himself to the resignation that permeates through his brother's life, Rodney opts for a big score through local bookie (Willem Dafoe).

A tragic accident sets Russell struggling to retrace what he had and after Rodney's tour overseas, the lengths to which he will go for a comfortable profit margin see no end. Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is without doubt one of the most vicious characters ever set to the silverscreen, so when Rodney finds himself involved in the backwoods crime syndicate, the lingering dread becomes realized. With his brother missing for more than a week, Russell seeks out police assistance. Told that there is nothing to be done and left with no legal recourse, Russell must choose whether to take measures that will send him down a dark path. A path that leads to the sadistically cruel world of Harlan DeGroat.

Scott Cooper's first film Crazy Heart featured a down on his luck musician who was plagued by the drink and finally got Jeff Bridges his well-deserved Oscar. In his second directorial feature Cooper proves that his touch with actors was not beginner's luck. He rounds up an outstanding cast for this considerably more bleak drama, and they elevate some of the predictable material into tense, compelling viewing.

A grounded performance, he doesn't force any moments with his showier castmates Affleck and Harrelson. He merely reflects and internalizes these scenes instead of outwardly exploding like his turns in American Psycho and The Fighter. Here, Bale disappears into the character. As the run-time dwindles down on Out of the Furnace it becomes clear that the amount of right decisions for Russell are disappearing as well. And that heartbreak can be read all over his face.

Casey Affleck rages his way through his supporting turn, but the brotherly bond with Bale is always there. Glances, nods, obnoxious posturing communicate much more than words. The two create a very lived-in relationship that, much like the rest of the supporting cast, enhances even the smallest developments onscreen.

Out of the Furnace wouldn't feel out of place as moody character study in the 1970s that popularized films like The Deer Hunter and Scott Cooper manages the balancing act between dark and morbidly depressing well. Unfortunately portions of the film feel like they were plucked from other sources, making events in the second and third acts feel as if they are telegraphed. A gut-punch of an ending resurrects positive response to the film, but it isn't quite enough to overcome the derivative nature of what comes before. Still, with a cast this strong delivering on all fronts, the film earns a recommendation.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Anomalisa

Weird is rarely used as a good quality in film criticism, but few words so completely describe Charlie Kaufman’s work as weird does. All of his films are a window into his very particular worldview, and that p.o.v. is certainly unlike anything seen in pop culture. For that reason, Anomalisa became an entry on many most anticipated lists for 2015. That Kaufman chose stop-motion to tell this story made the picture an event. So it came as a disappointment when the film was one of the year’s more mundane efforts.

Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have an energy and heart at the center that is not present here. Previous collaborators like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry were able to temper the overwhelming negativity Charlie Kaufman occasionally falls prey to, but, this time, the writer doesn’t have a director to rein things in. In all of his efforts to create an experience that is both familiar and alienating, Kaufman may have accidentally created something host…

Review: The Salvation

Westerns have never recovered from the oversaturation that killed off viewer interest decades ago, but every now and then a gem pops up. Recent successes like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma and the Coen brothers adaptation of True Grit all did well because they tweaked the genre slightly, but director Kristian Levring goes with an old school approach. A faithful recreation of those revenge Westerns made so popular in the 1970s, The Salvation envelopes many elements of previous Clint Eastwood classics and wraps it into a tidy package.

The Salvation starts in on the central dilemma, joining Jon (Hannibal‘s Mad Mikkelsen) at the train station where he awaits the arrival of his wife and son. Jon and his brother, Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), have lived in the United States long enough to build a hospitable life for their family back in Denmark. This homecoming should be a sweet moment to establish the family important to Jon, but fate plays out…

Review: Selma

It may surprise many that Martin Luther King Jr. never received the celluloid treatment prior to Selma. Sure he had been mentioned in other historical pieces, but short of documentary footage, King was never given center stage. Quite shocking given the man's legacy and the lingering effect of his efforts still felt today. Several years of production and a director change later, Selma arrives as the film worthy of the man.