Out of the Furnace never quite took advantage of a tremendous cast, especially Christian Bale, with a story that’s not very compelling and although I get the symbolism Cooper was going for, it didn’t gel for one reason or another. However, is it worth seeing? I don’t think you’ll regret at least giving it a rental as there are some solid performances and a couple truly good scenes.
Out of the Furnace
Genre(s): Drama, Crime
Fox | R – 104 min. – $29.99 | March 11, 2014
THE MOVIE – 3.25/5
Note: This review contains major spoilers about the plot, so readers beware.
Scott Cooper follows up the melancholy drama Crazy Heart, for which Jeff Bridges took home the Oscar for Best Actor, with Out of the Furnace, a quiet, character-driven drama with a sense of hopelessness at its core. This is a bit of darker film, however, and a big upgrade with a very talented ensemble cast yet where Crazy Heart had raw emotion, Furnace is cold and frankly forgettable despite the best of intentions.
The story, which opens in 2008, is set in a small Pennsylvania blue collar town where Russell Baze (CHRISTIAN BALE) works at a steel mill, has a beautiful girlfriend, Lena (ZOE SALDANA), wayward brother Rodney (CASEY AFFLECK) who is a gambler and in debt to bookie a man named John Petty (WILLEM DOFOE) who is surprisingly gentle and understanding, an ailing father and an uncle, Gerald (SAM SHEPARD), who helps out whenever he can.
Life is tough for Russell but generally good but it’s turned upside down after leaving the bar, he crashes into a car pulling out into the road, killing both the driver and a kid in the backseat. Not wasting time, thankfully, there’s no arrest or trial, we fast forward to Russell serving a prison sentence presumably for vehicular manslaughter. This sequence is also relatively short but effective learning that: Lena hasn’t visited him and is dating town Chief Wesley Barnes (FOREST WHITAKER), his father died and, in visits, Rodney reveals he has joined the army and served many tours overseas which changes him for the worst.
Eventually Russell is released and hopes to resume life but with Lena gone and Rodney increasingly aggressive, participating in bare knuckle fights, and back to the vigorous work at the steel mill which is set to soon close thanks to cheaper imports. As his relationship with Rodney becomes strained as Russell wants him to settle down and take a normal job rather than fighting, Rodney’s need a release for his aggression, he convinces Petty to take him to New Jersey where major crime lord, and all around psycho Harlan DeGroat (WOODY HARRELSON) runs the show. To show how dangerous he is, the movie actually opens with a prologue with DeGroat at a drive-in theater where he abuses his date and beats the living crap out of a man who dared to intervene. But thanks to DeGroat’s inability to control his emotions and take vengeance against those who he perceived wronged him, leads to the deaths of Petty and Rodney.
Back in Pennsylvania, Russell receives word concerning his brother and with the help of Uncle Gerald, goes to DeGroat’s territory to get answers being dissatisfied with Barnes’ abilities and that DeGroat controls his territory in New Jersey where the local town authorities refuse to do anything.
Out of the Furnace is a gritty and brutal drama that had so much potential but under the direction of Scott Cooper, comes across as detached rather than packing any sort of an emotional punch, this despite a cast of amazing actors, five of whom are either Oscar nominated or winners (Bale, Whitaker, Shepard, Dafoe and Affleck). With a year strong on dramas and in acting, this one falls by the wayside thanks in part to a screenplay by Cooper and Brad Ingelsby that never achieves its lofty goals.
Now, in fairness to the writing, there are a couple scenes that work and show some emotional depth, one of which is between Russell and Lena not long after his release from prison. It’s one of the few times I felt any sort of emotion and it hammers home how things changed due to a deadly mistake; Bale and Saldana were both great in the scene, if only the remainder of the film could match it.
The acting in particular, though, isn’t bad. Christian Bale in the lead once again delivers a great performance showing quiet range with a character grown weary with the actions he takes throughout the course of the film (interestingly enough, the role was going to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio who left but still served as a producer); Casey Affleck for as little he’s in it plays off of Bale nicely and shows his own violent inertia due to the war; Woody Harrelson once again shows his range and is effective as a villain, it’s just a shame he’s done up as a caricature rather than a multi-dimensional character, no other motivations shown; and lastly Zoe Saldana and Forest Whitaker whose both roles are limited, Whitaker especially.
In the end, Out of the Furnace certainly had plenty going for it between a solid director in Scott Cooper and a fantastic cast consisting of a few Oscar nominees and winners. But for whatever reason, likely the screenplay, it never quite meshes and on an emotional level I left feeling basically nothing which is a damn shame.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.0/5
Inspiration (3:30; HD) is a short featurette where the main actors tell how they got into acting.
Scott Cooper (6:39; HD) is an interview with co-writer and director talking about his approach to filmmaking.
Crafting the Fight Scenes (5:15; HD) looks at how the fights were choreographed and shot.
The Music of Out of the Furnace (9:07; HD) examines the score and songs featured in the film and how it influenced the story.
Also included are the Theatrical Trailer (2:24; HD) and the activation code for the UltraViolet Digital Copy.
Previews – Robocop, The Counselor
VIDEO – 4.75/5
Out of the Furnace arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p high-definition transfer and presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio. While not the prettiest looking transfer with director Scott Cooper trying to convey the desolate and despair of the town as well as the characters, it’s a dark and gritty-looking transfer. Black levels are stark showing no artifacting or pixilation and the detail levels are also sharp looking.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t anything amazing yet it’s still effective. The bulk of the movie is filled with either dialogue or Dickon Hinchliffe’s somber and dramatic score. There are some gunfire and fight brutal fight scenes that help round out the lossless track where most of the audio coming from the front and center channels and the rear speakers relegated for ambient and side action noises.
OVERALL – 3.25/5
Overall, Out of the Furnace never quite took advantage of a tremendous cast, especially Christian Bale, with a story that’s not very compelling and although I get the symbolism Cooper was going for, it didn’t gel for one reason or another. However, is it worth seeing? I don’t think you’ll regret at least giving it a rental as there are some solid performances and a couple truly good scenes. The Blu-ray released by Fox offers up great audio/video transfers and a limited wealth of bonus material.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.