@AndrewBevevino reviews Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace: Lukewarm

By Andrew Bevevino 

Among the superstars to appear in the drama/thriller Out of the Furnace are Casey Affleck, Forrest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, and Zoe Saldana. Did I mention Christian Bale? Oh yeah, one of the producers is Leonardo DiCaprio.  All of this star-power should have churned out an epic movie, right? Well, not necessarily. It turns out that Out of the Furnace should have stayed in the furnace a little longer.

Set in the steel mill town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, the story unfolds around Russell Baze, a scruffy steel mill worker portrayed by Christian Bale. Russell works his days away at the local mill, trying to provide for his wife Lena, played by Zoe Saldana. Russell and Lena are happy, living in a small house in Braddock and even thinking about having kids.

The steel mill setting is, above all else, bleak. Rusty machinery and billows of smoke are always present, portraying a very raw, cold theme. Before nearly every scene is an establishing shot of the towering smoke stacks or the massive steel mills. Many shots are composed in dim lighting, and the appearance of the sun is scarce. If director Scott Cooper wanted to make a grim, dreary movie, then he did a damn good job.

It seems like Russell is doing all the right things. He works double shifts at the steel mill to make extra money, and he does his best to keep his wife happy. However, his life is dismantled when he drives home after drinking and smashes into another car, killing a young boy. Baze serves a lengthy prison sentence, and his life starts to unravel.

This movie may be subpar, but Bale’s performance is certainly not. With tragic eyes and forsaken presence, Bale plays the sad character of Russell Baze almost flawlessly. Baze loses everything: his wife leaves him, his father dies, he loses his job, and his brother finds fatal trouble. Bale’s desolate gaze and soft, forlorn demeanor make him seem as if he has nothing to live for. Among the dust clouds of mediocrity, Bale rises up as a star.

Though Russell Baze is hardworking, his brother Rodney, played by Casey Affleck, is a misfit. An Iraq War veteran and a compulsive gambler, Rodney has trouble paying off his debts. His money troubles lead him to fight in bare-knuckle boxing matches in rundown warehouses between Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

It’s in this ring of underground fighting that we are introduced to Harlan DeGroat, played by Woody Harrelson. DeGroat is a gruff, volatile, West Virginian crime-lord who shoots heroine under his big toe nail and doesn’t give a second thought to killing anyone standing in his way. DeGroat is, in a word, crazy.

Rodney finds himself fighting in DeGroat’s warehouse, working to pay off one of his many debts. Though Rodney escapes the fight, DeGroat, unsatisfied, tracks him down. It’s here where the main conflict of the movie unfolds, and DeGroat damns himself to be hunted down by Rodney’s tenacious brother, Russell.

Harrelson’s performance in this film is also masterful. His ruthless portrayal of the psychopath DeGroat left me shocked.  For example, the opening scene shows DeGroat shoving a hot dog down a woman’s throat, nearly choking her to death. DeGroat continues his savage ways throughout the movie, getting into fist fights and committing more than a few murders. Harrelson certainly added some flare to this otherwise bland movie.

Out of the Furnace should have been thrilling, gritty, and adventurous. Sadly, it wasn’t. The bare-knuckle boxing matches do provide some flash, but those are few and far between. Russell spends a good portion of the movie fixing up his deceased father’s home, chipping paint off the door frame and cleaning the gutter. For the majority of the movie, Rodney is shown having a few drinks then running off. In a movie loaded with stars, there should have been more excitement.

But it wasn’t just the lack of explosions and gun-fights that deflated this film. Affleck’s role as Rodney Baze, a central character, left a lot to be desired. Except for a few outbursts and fight scenes, Rodney was one-dimensional. His low, monotonous voice and jaded personality were anything but dynamic. The fact that he was in Iraq War veteran was definitely underplayed. Had this character been developed a bit more, Out of the Furnace would have stayed a little warmer.

If Rodney was intended to be a constantly soft-spoken, weary guy, then there was a major misfire by director Scott Cooper. Cooper is known for his direction in the film Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. However, that’s about all he’s known for. Out of the Furnace is only Cooper’s second film as a director. Cooper’s inexperience shows as this movie, failing to take advantage of acting talent and experience, nearly falls on flat its face.

Overall, Out of the Furnace isn’t great. This is, at best, a decent film. If you’re a fan of Christian Bale, or if you like the steel mill scenery of Braddock, Pennsylvania, then this movie is worth your time. Otherwise, don’t get your hopes up.

Out of 5 stars, Out of the Furnace gets 2.5


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