Out of the Furnace poses a rather critical conundrum. On one hand, the film’s gritty exploration of one man’s quest for justice is finely acted, but on the other hand, it is substantially conventional.
Director Scott Cooper follows up his enormously successful 2009 film Crazy Heart with Out of the Furnace. In it, steel mill worker Russell Baze (Christian Bale) works in order to take care of his terminally ill father while his Iraq-War veteran brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) tries to find a way to adapt to life back at home. On the surface, it is a film about fathers, sons, and brothers. However, Cooper opens his film with an alarmingly tense and violent scene at a drive-in movie theater that includes neither of the film’s two main characters. This scene sets the tone for the film as well as attempts to set the stage for its ambition. Unfortunately, Out of the Furnace can not quite maintain its balance between narrative and ambition.
The ambition angle aims to document and test the two brothers as life locks them in a metaphorical “furnace.” Russell spends several years in prison for a drunk driving accident and Rodney begins a downward spiral after the war that leads him to an underground fight-ring headed up by a ruthless kingpin, DeGroat (Woody Harrelson, in his most frightening role in years). When Rodney suddenly disappears, Russell takes matters into his own hands and goes on a manhunt. This is when Out of the Furnace ends up stepping on the heels of a film released earlier this year, Prisoners. Both films want the audience in a “what would you do?” type of scenario, but Prisoners executes it much better. Both films even have a deer hunting motif!
Out of the Furnace is clunky structurally and it is heavy handed in its treatment of flawed characters who “just want to do the right thing.” However, the film did attract big, big stars who all came to play. Affleck and Bale turn out career performances, and the supporting players include Willem DaFoe, Sam Shepard, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana, and the aforementioned Harrelson who are all quite compelling as well.
Out of the Furnace is all guts and not much glory. The film desires to resonate with the audience, but I was left feeling unsatisfied and disappointed. I appreciate great performances, but they are rarely enough to carry a film on their own merits. C
Out of the Furnace is rated R, and has a running time of one hour and 46 minutes. I say see Prisoners instead.