Review: Out Of The Furnace
Scott Cooper transitioned from small-time actor into big-time director when his debut film Crazy Heart earned Jeff Bridges a Best Actor Oscar in 2009. It has taken five long years for his follow-up film, Out of the Furnace, to be made and released -- and that was partially due to Cooper's insistence that Christian Bale play the lead role of Russell Baze, a long time steel miner in rural Pennsylvania struggling to make the best out of his life.
Russell has a beautiful girlfriend named Lena (Zoe Saldana) and works hard to make the lives of those around him better, checking in on his ailing father every morning before work and bailing his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) out of his gambling debts even though he doesn't really have the money. Rodney has been on four tours to Iraq and has no interest in following in his brother's footsteps of working for a living. He's always on the hunt for a quick buck, teaming up with a local bar owner (Willem Dafoe) who specializes in underground bare-knuckle fights to make enough cash to stay afloat.
On the way home from paying off some of Rodney's debts, Russell drives home from the bar after having one too many and gets into an accident, killing two people. As he goes off to jail, his life slowly begins to slip away from him. His father's health gets worse, his girlfriend refuses to see him and his brother goes further and further off the deep end. While we aren't shown exactly how many years he's incarcerated, the world that Russell returns to after he is released from prison is far different than it was when he went away.
There is an artful slow-burn to the filmmaking on display here, but Out Of The Furnace shows that no matter how many talented actors you have, some stories just can't be redeemed. It's just not very original and even though Relativity is doing a full-court press for awards season, it's hard to imagine this revenge thriller gaining much traction.
The best thing about the movie, quite surprisingly, is Woody Harrelson. He gives a frightfully good performance as the ringleader of an Appalachian crime syndicate who spends his days violating women, cooking up meth and throwing fights so that he can make as much money as possible. He's pure evil personified, but even this gritty role (which kicks off the movie in a disturbingly violent way) doesn't save Out of the Furnace from feeling like something we've seen a million times before.