'Out of the Furnace' burns bleakly
“Out of the Furnace” is quite possibly the feel-bad movie of the year.
Those seeking that cold and clammy feeling on a harsh winter’s eve should look no further, perhaps even listening to some 17th-century Irish funeral dirges on the way over. Afterward, watch something a little uplifting, like “Requiem for a Dream.” Or, perhaps, engage in some light reading by Cormac McCarthy. “Blood Meridian” is a good choice.
“Out of the Furnace” isn’t a bad film; just bleak as all hell and overwrought to the point that it buckles under its own perceived weight.
Director and writer Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) attempts a brooding, character-driven drama, spiked with a pervading sense of hopelessness that doubles as commentary on the ruined state of the American dream.
Sporting a terrific cast, he more than gets his point across but tries too hard in the process. Riddled with uneven pacing that makes its relatively modest run-time feel bloated, “Furnace” can’t seem to find balance between the brutal violence and drama on screen. It’s not quite an art house drama, and it’s not exactly a thriller, but rather something oddly in between — as if Wes Anderson were directing Charles Bronson in “Death Wish.”
Filling the Bronson role, Christian Bale (“American Psycho”) is Russell Baze, a down-on-his-luck steelworker, whittling away his life in a dead-end job in a decaying Pennsylvania mill town. When he’s not working, Russell visits his terminally ill father (Bingo O’Malley, “Super 8”), pays off gambling debts for his brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck, 2001’s “Ocean’s 11”), and finds time to carouse with girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana, “Star Trek Into Darkness”).
When an accident places Russell in prison, things only get worse — especially upon his release. The mill is on the brink of closing, and Rodney, having served several tours of duty in Iraq, is suffering severely from post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, he’s resorted to pit fighting to earn a living.
In order to pay off a debt to bookie John Petty (Willem Dafoe, “Shadow of the Vampire”), Rodney makes the mistake of doing business with a ruthless band of backwoods Jersey criminals, led by the repugnant Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson, “Kingpin”).
When Rodney turns up missing after a fight, Russell fears the worse. And with law enforcement bickering over jurisdiction and procedure, time is ticking, prompting him to take matters into his own hands.
Needless to say, things get messy. Fortunately, the film’s looming sense of despair keeps it all together — along with its outstanding cast.
Bale, needless to say, is superb as Baze, even if the character seems unevenly written at times. Bale gives it his all, and “Furnace” is all the better for it.
As DeGroat, Harrelson practically sweats menace, effectively portraying a monster that could well be the product of his environment or pure evil.
Strong supporting performances come courtesy of Dafoe and Forest Whitaker (“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”), but this is Bale’s and Harrelson’s show. They’re the characters who represent the gist of Cooper’s angle, of how choices can make a man.
But when it comes to choosing a drama for this holiday season, maybe find something a little more optimistic. Like “The Deer Hunter.”
“Out of the Furnace,” rated R for strong violence, language and drug content, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.