Friday, December 13, 2013


Rated:  R

Stars: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson,  Zoe Saldana,  Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafole, Sam Shepard

Director: Scott Cooper

Genre: Drama

Out Of The Furnace is evidently trying to make a point about senseless violence. The senseless violence of war. The senseless violence that permeates the drug culture. The senseless violence of clandestine bare-knuckle boxing (the human equivalent of cockfighting). The senseless violence of shooting animals at close range for "sport."  So as you might have guessed, there's a lot of senseless violence in this film,  but the only point that gets made is that Americans continue to possess a disturbing and unrelenting blood lust for senseless violence in their films, TV shows, video games, and sports. (Soccer--another excuse to hold a riot!)  

We're a bunch of sick puppies.

The most sympathetic character here is Russell Baze, (Christian Bale) a steel mill worker in a depressed area of Pennsylvania. More than the rest, you could say he's a victim of circumstance. He has a sweet thing going with his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) until he gets convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sent off to prison. She drops him, but he will attempt a reconciliation when he gets out. 

Russell has a loose cannon brother, Rodney, (Casey Affleck)  who just returned from four tours of duty in Iraq. Russell tries to get Rodney to see the practical wisdom of working at the mill, but Rodney would rather get involved with a scumbag bookie (Willem Dafoe) who sets him up in the world of bare-knuckle boxing. His handler is a twisted sociopath named  Harlan DeGroat, (Woody Harrelson) a local drug mogul whom  you don't want to cross. If you owe money to DeGroat and don't ante up, you could be paying with your life.  Rodney has stepped out of the furnace and into the fire, and there ain't no turnin' back.  

Out Of The Furnace is an old-fashioned revenge tale, pure and simple, which skulks  with a palpable sense of dread toward its inexorable climax, aided by yet another winning score from Dickon Hinchliffe (Winter's Bone, Project Nim, Last Chance Harvey).

Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck turn in  memorable performances--Affleck as the ticking time bomb, and Harrelson for the brooding evil he summons forth from the darkest regions of the human soul. Why Harrelson, who by all accounts is one of the good guys in real life,  (environmentalist, vegan) continues to take on these kinds of lowlife roles is a curious and intriguing mystery to me--but he probably just wants to demonstrate his range. 

Out Of The Furnace is superb for what it is, but it covers no new ground. In fact, it covers some very ancient ground. The eternal, relentless, and invariably futile barbarism of exacting an eye for an eye.  

Grade:  B


It's a funny thing about OUT OF THE FURNACE. The script has more holes in it than a pound of Swiss cheese. For this reason alone I'd normally give it low marks. But I was hooked from start to finish. Even when the finish didn't make any sense whatsoever. Kill me, shoot me, but I like violent flicks. And believe you me, writer-director Scott Cooper ("Crazy Heart") kept me tense and terrified throughout. I definitely wasn't bored. But after the movie ended, I wasn't particularly inspired, either. Or moved. Just confused.

I could pick on plenty of stuff about this movie that got my nose out of joint: e.g. hard to buy into the idea that skinny Casey Affleck could beat up on guys twice his size. And why did Forest Whitaker choose to play such a minor and meatless role? But I've got to be honest. For all it's flaws and implausibilities, OUT OF THE FURNACE had me jumping at every punch thrown, completely gripped by the madness I kept on witnessing. So even though my head tells me I should be objective about the script's structural flaws (cowritten with Brad Ingelsby) and grade this flick accordingly, I refuse to do it. Why? Because part of movie-going for me (and millions of others, I suspect), is to escape. And OUT OF THE FURNACE is perfect escapist entertainment. Especially for psychopaths....