Film review: Out of the furnace

Saved from DVD status by wonderful leads

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 30th January 2014, 1:28 pm
Out of the furnace: Christian Bale
Out of the furnace: Christian Bale

Brotherly love burns bright, and lights the fuse on a powder keg of messy emotions in Scott Cooper’s slow-burning and sporadically violent revenge thriller.

Out Of The Furnace is unrelentingly bleak and trades in the misery of hard-working, hard-drinking folks, who exist just above the poverty line in Braddock, Pennsylvania and must occasionally break the law to survive.

The opening scene - a blood-spattered punch-up at a drive-in cinema - establishes the grim tone and film’s repeated use of bruised knuckles rather than words to resolve bitter disputes.

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Pain is etched on the face of every character in Cooper’s film, and suffer they do, most grievously. Justice is served with hunting rifles and murderous stares.

This descent into the heart of darkness is predictable but Cooper sparks the script, co-written by Brad Ingelsby, to life with incendiary performances from Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson.

Russell Baze (Bale) toils long hours at the local steel mill, earning just enough money to pay the medical bills of his terminally ill father and settle some of the mounting debts of his brother Rodney (Affleck) with loan shark John Petty (Willem Dafoe).

Driving home late one night with liquor on his breath, Russell is involved in a car accident and is convicted for vehicular manslaughter.

Unfortunately, Russell’s father passes away while he is behind bars and his girlfriend Lina (Zoe Saldana) leaves him for the chief of police, Wesley Barnes (Forest Whittaker).

When he is finally released, Russell struggles to piece his life back together.

Crippled by gambling debts, Rodney implores Petty to introduce him to Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson), who organises lucrative bare-knuckle brawls in the backwoods.

“You mess with these in-breds, you’ll come crawling back, if you’re lucky,” warns Petty.

This dire prediction falls on deaf ears and Rodney vanishes after taking a dive in the ring.

Wesley is powerless to hold DeGroat to account so Russell risks everything to seek justice for his missing sibling, flanked by his sharp-shooting uncle Red (Sam Shepard).

Out Of The Furnace would be straight-to-DVD fodder were it not for riveting performances from the male leads. Bale commits himself wholeheartedly to his role as reluctant avenger, putting himself through the emotional wringer, while Harrelson is deliciously 
repugnant as a thug, who tells enemies what he thinks of them by flashing an obscenity tattooed on his knuckles.

The threat of violence hangs in the air throughout the pedestrian two hours, detonating with fury in the fight sequences.

The linear nature of Cooper and Ingelsby’s script keeps us two steps ahead of the characters as they struggle to get out of the moral quagmire, but end up sinking deeper and deeper to their doom.

Thriller/Romance/Action. Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker. Director: Scott Cooper.