There’s a certain expectation for movies like “Out of the Furnace,” that boast an Oscar award winners or nominees in every scene. If it’s got such an impressive assemblage of talent, you’d assume the film clearly has to be worth your investment, but this “Furnace” will likely leave you cold.
Scott Cooper follows up his 2010 directorial debut Crazy Heart with another spectacular actor’s showcase. The all-star cast takes atypical roles leading to an immensely satisfying character study, but story wise there’s little to support them in this underwhelming effort.
Thriving in Pittsburgh’s section of the economically-depressed Rust Belt is impossible. The money-makers saw the writing on the wall years ago and left the worn-down area with no chance of recovery. The long-time factory workers are dying from years spent toiling in mills and those still left understand that life won’t get better here anytime soon.
It’s the life Russell Baze (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Rises) has grown accustomed to, but he’s content and his girlfriend, Lena (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek Into Darkness), would be the moment Russell gets her pregnant.
Less satisfied with his life is Rodney (Casey Affleck, ParaNorman), Russell’s younger brother, and Iraq war vet struggling to make sense of the “real world” after witnessing countless atrocities in the warzone. Rodney finds some escape in the fight clubs run by his booker, John (Willem Defoe, John Carter), but Russell realizes that’s a dead-end path, especially after a run-in with Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire).
A tragic accident lands Russell in prison, unable to protect Rodney or maintain his relationship with Lena, who finds comfort with Police Chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker, Black Nativity). Not long after Russell’s release from prison, Rodney goes missing and all signs point to Harlan. Despite Wesley’s warnings, Russell and his uncle, Red, (Sam Shepherd, Killing Them Softly) set out to either find Rodney or get payback.
Crazy Heart earned Jeff Bridges a Best Actor Oscar while Maggie Gyllenhaal received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nom and Cooper proves that wasn’t a fluke as he again brings out arguably career-best performances from his stars.
Bale has a less showy role than what you may expect. He plays Russell as an introspective, old soul who’s seen a lot and survived to tell the tale. While Bale is prominently featured in the trailers and ads, this is Harrelson’s film. In a vast departure from his likable Haymitch in The Hunger Games series, Harrelson shows his versatility by playing a psychotic wildcard capable of anything. Harlan is a violent menace, but Harrelson gives him a terrifying presence far more sinister.
Just as engaging is Affleck, who gives a compelling portrayal of a broken man left to fend for himself after fighting for his country. You feel Rodney’s pain even as it’s apparent his decisions won’t lead to anything good.
Cooper does a tremendous job of establishing the tone. There’s a palatable depression everywhere that Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi captures wonderfully with dark grey lighting spotlighting the decrepit houses, but Cooper and co-writer Brad Ingelsby can’t pay off the fantastic setup.
The plot is laid out for a slow burning start that boils over in a dynamic final act, but Cooper and Inglesby keep turning down the heat the moment anything potentially heats up. It’s most noticeable with Russell’s climactic confrontation with Harlan that may leave audiences asking ‘that’s it?’
Out of the Furnace is being presented like a standard revenge film where the main character has to carry out a little vigilante justice in order to right a wrong. In reality, this is a film that’s all about the acting. The performances aren’t enough to make this a must-see as the script leaves them hanging too often and may leave you steaming with disappointment.