OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Language and Drug Content

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Directed by: Scott Cooper

Written by: Brad Ingelsby & Scott Cooper

Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe & Forest Whitaker

If there’s any film from this year that OUT OF THE FURNACE reminds me of, it’s THE COUNSELOR. Though not nearly as terrible as that mess Ridley Scott directed, this film has some of the same potential and problems. The cast is A-list around the board here. The side characters are filled with big name actors. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are the leads. Woody Harrelson plays the villain of the piece. However, the story looked to be a typical vigilante revenge set-up and that’s pretty much where it went. With all the potential of the A-list cast, the film feels like a missed opportunity for something much greater.

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Russell (Bale) and Rodney (Affleck) Baze are two very different people from the same family. A tragic accident throws Russell into the slammer for a few years, while Rodney goes back to his second tour of duty in Iraq. Cut to the present, Russell is getting out of prison and Rodney has been earning money from underground fight clubs, suffering a bad case PTSD. After getting mixed up with the wrong people (led by Woody Harrelson), Rodney goes missing and Russell takes matters of justice into his own hands.

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That’s the basic outline for OUT OF THE FURNACE and the promotional material would have you believe that the entire movie is about Russell seeking vengeance for Rodney’s mysterious disappearance. In actuality, the promoted plot only takes place for about half of the movie. The first half shows both siblings enduring hard times given their very different circumstances. This approach may have worked if there was something more to these characters than being struggling blue-collar workers. No real development is given that makes the audience care about the people on display, which I assume is probably the exact opposite of what director/co-writer Scott Cooper was going for.

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The same can be said about the other characters in the film. Big name actors like Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker show up to do rather menial work as means to an end, rather than giving any sort of emotional fleshed-out characters to the viewer. In all honesty, many of the problems with OUT OF THE FURNACE come right down to how the story is presented. If the movie had begun around the hour-mark in this film and carefully had developed the characters in a way that didn’t show us everything they’d experienced in the past five years, then it might have made for a far more compelling story than it did. The running time of nearly two hours feels bloated and struggles with side-plots that have no relevance to main storyline that seems to be frequently neglected in order to feed us more filler that this film didn’t need.

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The viewer doesn’t need to see Russell’s struggles with his ex-girlfriend or his anger at the town Sheriff (who has hooked up with Russell’s ex-girlfriend). This film should have focused on three characters in particular. It should have been Russell Baze, Rodney Baze, and the villainous Harlan DeGroat. These three characters were the only ones that mattered and it seemed like way too much time was being devoted to unneeded elements, which stripped the main plot of vigilante justice down to its bare bones. Given familiar material, the acting from everyone here is solid enough. Forest Whitaker and Willem Dafoe are both regulated to the background. Christian Bale is great and we’ve come to expect that from him. Casey Affleck is also fascinating to watch as a man clearly traumatized and a stone’s throw away from going over the edge. Woody Harrelson also gives an insanely scenery-chewing performance of pure drug-addicted redneck evil.

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Despite there being some a few troublesome moments that doesn’t really make too much sense given the circumstances (especially one that comes near the end), OUT OF THE FURNACE could be written off as a more artsy version of DEATH WISH. It’s decent enough, but doesn’t break any new ground or throw any fresh elements into the well-worn revenge-thriller formula. Far from terrible, but also a bit of a missed opportunity given the level of talent involved.

Grade: B-

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