Russell Baze (Christian Bale) is a blue collar mill worker eking out a meager existence in his Rust Belt town. He wants to get away from this economically-depressed land but an unfortunate turn puts him into prison. When he is released, years later, it is to learn that his younger brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), is in deep with local mob boss Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). This is not a good thing and Russell finds himself in a personal battle of loyalty and survival in “Out of the Furnace.”
In his second feature, director/co-writer Scott Cooper establishes the dark tone for his film as it opens at a drive-in. Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson in full crazy mode), all hopped up on booze and drugs, gets insanely angry at his girlfriend and stuffs a cigar down her throat. When a bystander tries to rescue her, Harlan delivers him a brutal beating. Harlan is not a nice person.
Russell is the antithesis of Harlan as he is a kind and good man who is trying to make his way to a new life. He loves his brother Rodney, who is home from one of his several deployments to Afghanistan. Rodney, though, gets himself in deep with his bookie, John Petty (Willem Dafoe), and Russell sees it as his duty to help his brother pay off his debt. But, an unfortunate car accident sends Russell to prison and Rodney spirals out of control.
When the elder Baze brother is finally release from jail, he finds the world that he once knew is gone. Rodney, because of his increasing debt, has entered the world of bare knuckle fighting, a world controlled by crazy criminal Harlan. Russell also must face the fact that his girlfriend, Lena (Zoe Saldana), is now living with police chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker) and is pregnant with his child. Then, Rodney disappears. This sets the stage for the rest of “Out of the Furnace” and its outcome for Russell.
Christian Bale lends quiet intensity to his working man Russell, who believes in doing the right thing, especially when it involves family. His brother Rodney, though, is a loose cannon who has faced too many deployments (showing the negative effects the war has on our young, coming-home soldiers) and Casey Affleck gives a knows-no-fear edge to his tragic character. Woody Harrelson is down right evil as drug-dealer Harlan (his own best customer) and is a menacing presence until the very end. Zoe Saldana, in the relatively minor role as Lena, delivers a sympathetic performance as Russell’s girlfriend who still loves him, though she is now with another. Sam Shepard is a strong character as the brothers’ Uncle Red, a man of quiet strength. Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker give character to their subjects, though neither has much time to flesh them out.
Scott Cooper creates a dark and forbidding world through which Russell must travel. The depression facing the small Pennsylvania town is palpable when we see Russell working in a foundry that he (and you) knows is not long for this world. There is a quiet desperation about this setting that is believably real. “Out of the Furnace” is not an optimistic film, far from it. It is, though, a well-written and well-acted tome that pulls no punches. I give it a B+.
Laura gives "Out of the Furnace" a B.
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