Out of the Furnace

Directed By: Scott Cooper

Starring: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, and Sam Shepard

Merry Christmas movie lovers!  We have hit the second best time of the year for movies.  This week is a slow one as it does not contain any big budget releases.  During a brief hiatus from blockbusters like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Frozen and the new Hobbit movie, Relativity Media released its dark drama, Out of the Furnace, this weekend.  While the stellar cast delivers riveting performances, the story stalls in the end.

Russell Baze (Christian Bale) is a working class mill employee struggling to make ends meet in a small town.  Russell has a “heart of gold.”  He works hard, loves his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) and takes care of his sick father and troubled younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck).  Unfortunately, Rodney has a gambling problem, and he owes a huge debt to a local bar owner John Petty (Willem Dafoe).  One night, Russell goes to see Petty at his bar to pay down some of his brother Rodney’s debt.  He has a few drinks while he is there, and then heads out.  On his way home, Russell hits a family with his car, and he ends up going to jail because he was under the influence.

While Russell is in jail, his father passes away, his girlfriend leaves him for police officer Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker) and his younger brother suffers through multiple tours of duty in Iraq.  Suffice it to say, Russell’s life is in a bad state.  When Russell gets out of prison, he tries to pull his life together and goes back to work at the mill.  His brother, Rodney, however, is suffering as a result of his experiences in Iraq.  He has taken up fighting in illegal ultimate fighting matches.  Rodney’s situation takes a turn for the worse when he becomes involved in backwoods matches run by a very sinister, violent man by the name of Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).  When Rodney suddenly goes missing, Russell goes on a mission to find his younger brother.

Out of the Furnace is a compelling film.  The performances delivered by this Oscar-winning cast are riveting.  Christian Bale is phenomenal in the lead role.  Oftentimes when actors play iconic figures, it is difficult to see that actor as anyone other than that character.  But Bale is far from Bruce Wayne in this film.  He masterfully plays a completely average working stiff, who is extraordinary only in that he is a genuinely decent guy faced with tragic circumstances.  Most notably, Bale’s scenes with Zoe Saldana are heartbreaking.  His pain is raw as he realizes the love of his life has chosen stability over true love.  Casey Affleck also delivers a solid performance, and his character is surprisingly layered.  At the outset, viewers may be tempted to dismiss him as shiftless and lazy.  But there is more to this troubled young man than meets the eye, and Affleck delivers.

With all of that being said, Woody Harrelson steals the show as the disgustingly violent Harlan DeGroat.  Harrelson is completely badass as the leader of a lawless, inbred, drug/fighting ring. Harlan has a problem with everybody.  He is not funny, and he is not easy to look at.  Yet when Harrelson is on the screen, it is impossible to look at anyone else.

Out of the Furnace, however, has pacing issues. Some of the plot points felt rushed, and at times it was like the film was in fast forward motion.  Then in other parts of the movie, the pacing was a bit labored.  Most notably, the ending of this film felt at once anticlimactic and abrupt.  The patrons in my theater sat confused as the credits rolled, clearly not sure what to do.  I understand what the filmmakers were trying to do, but the latter half of the film just felt clumsy and not fully developed.  Thus, even with the strong cast, the film felt incomplete.

Out of the Furnace earns a 0.06% rating.  Have a cold beer with this one.