OUT OF THE FURNACE
*** (out of 5)
December 6, 2013
Christian Bale as RUSSELL BAZE
Casey Affleck as RODNEY BAZE JR.
Woody Harrelson as HARLAN DEGROAT
Zoe Saldana as LENA TAYLOR
Sam Shepard as GERALD “RED” BAZE
Willem Dafoe as JOHN PETTY
Forest Whitaker as CHIEF WESLEY BARNES
Studio: Relativity Media
Directed by: Scott Cooper
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I first became aware of “Out of the Furnace” only a couple months ago when I was seeing a late showing of the new “Carrie” on opening night. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one whose radar this film was flying under because when I referenced it as “the new Christian Bale movie” to someone, they immediately assumed I was talking about “American Hustle.”
Nope. The other Christian Bale movie. “Out of the Furnace” can also be called “the other Woody Harrelson movie,” “the other Sam Shepherd movie” and “the other Forest Whitaker movie.” Oddly enough, the film’s greatest strength – which is its exceptionally strong cast – is also an albatross around its neck.
Everyone who delivers a solid performance in the movie has another film in award contention in 2013. Sam Shepard made greater noise with “Mud.” Forest Whitaker is better remembered this year for “The Butler.” And while I don’t expect him to win an Oscar for his performance in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” Woody Harrelson was more memorable in that film.
Directed by Scott Cooper, who gave us “Crazy Heart” a few years ago and helped Jeff Bridges earn an Oscar statuette, “Out of the Furnace” does not appear to be my cup of tea. It’s a very slow burn, if you’ll pardon the pun, and it travels some very familiar roads.
The story follows two brothers (Bale and Casey Affleck) who struggle with life in an economically depressed area of the country. Their options are limited, and either one ends up in prison or the military as one of the few alternatives to working in a local mill that is known for crippling injuries. When the brothers get involved in the business of illegal fighting with some nefarious people who live up the mountain, things turn tragic, and the wronged must seek revenge.
The pacing of the film is very deliberate, yet I didn’t find it to be dull or meaningless. It takes about half of the film to actually get to the driving point and the events that will dictate how the characters will react for the remainder of the picture. What happens up to this point is set-up for characters and the location, but not in a blatant, expository way.
Instead, Cooper invites the audience to live with his characters for a bit before we see things really get dark and dangerous for them. When things finally do start happening, the film gains some life. If I had to choose whether a movie is slow in the beginning or slow in the end, I’d much prefer the former.
While the set-up that Cooper does in “Out of the Furnace” might seem pedantic and unnecessary at first, it helps set the mood and the scene. This also makes “Out of the Furnace” a nice alternative to the more explosive and flashy effects-driven films that come out at this time of year.
“Out of the Furnace” will likely be forgotten in a flood of award films, but it’s worth checking out for something difference in the wake of action films and animated family movies.