If you’re a soldier stuck in a small Pennsylvania town after several tours in the Middle East, maybe bare-knuckle boxing isn’t the way to go.
In “Out of the Furnace”, Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) are two brothers struggling to survive in a small Rust Belt town. When a sudden tragedy strikes the family, Russell ends up in prison and Rodney is sent back into action with the military. After serving his time, Russell realizes his brother has made some dangerous friends in the world of underground fighting. When a ruthless criminal (Woody Harrelson) comes after Rodney to collect a debt, Russell has to choose between trusting the authorities and endangering himself to inflict his own justice.
With American manufacturing headed the way it is, there are many of these small towns throughout the country where factories are closing and illegal activities are moving in. Through these two brothers, we are shown the choice that many people from these communities are forced to make: an honest job that barely gets you by or something dangerous that could make you rich or dead.
Though small-town economics and the path a man chooses would have been a great focus for the film, “Out of the Furnace” instead tells the story of veterans who come home to a financially drained community and discover their service hasn’t guaranteed them an easy life.
Christian Bale continues to transform himself with every role, this time taking on the persona of a blue collar country boy. He and Affleck have a strong chemistry as brothers and it helps that the latter provides a strong performance as well. Their counterpart, Woody Harrelson, dances the line between comedy and complete lunatic like he has in the past with “Rampart” and “Seven Psychopaths”. Harrelson’s Harlan DeGroat is a devious little redneck who would just as soon kill you as shake your hand. As the leader of a number of illegal activities, his unpredictability makes for a good villain. Completing the rest of a strong cast are Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard. Sadly all but Dafoe are pretty much wasted.
Despite a strong cast, “Out of the Furnace” struggles from a mediocre script from writer Brad Ingelsby and co-writer/director Scott Cooper. Between the two of them they have written a total of 3 movies before this, only one of which was worth remembering (“Crazy Heart”). The film starts out very strong but starts to lose its way during the end of the 2nd act. The conclusion picks things up a little bit but the finale still felt a little rushed and hollow.
After watching the film, I kept thinking about how close it was to being great without ever getting there. Another draft on the script might have upgraded the film to something memorable, but for now it’s slightly above average.
“Out of the Furnace” isn’t a bad film but given the talent of its cast and a release date right in the middle of awards season, the final product is a little disappointing. If you’re not into hobbits from Middle Earth, “Out of the Furnace” is a good way to spend a rainy afternoon.
I’m hoping to post reviews for “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “The Hobbit” in the next few days so be looking out for those. Until then, happy viewing.