Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace

  • Well acted and directed, but poorly scripted, Out of the Furnace is almost a good movie.
  • Christian Bale (Russell Baze) is talented. Casey Affleck (Rodney Baze, Jr.) might be more so. Willem Dafoe (John Petty), Sam Shephard (Uncle Red), Forrest Whitaker (Wesley Barnes) and Woody Harrelson (Harlan Degroat) round out an impressive cast.
  • The actors do not disappoint, especially not Affleck. His is the character that makes it seem this movie will have larger meaning, and he is the actor who comes closest to making us feel. The rest of the cast is also very good, even Dafoe, who initially seems miscast as an underworld middle man. (Note: Forrest Whitaker is wasted. He is given little screen time and even less narrative import.)
  • Yet Out of the Furnace cannot overcome a weak script, penned by Director Scott Cooper and Co-Writer Brad Inglesby. While the implied conflict between Russell (Bale) and Rodney (Affleck) is almost as riveting as their eventual argument, and while the movie features some interesting ideas, Cooper and Inglesby never adequately develop their characters.
  • De Groat (Harrelson) is never more than back country psychopath without a single redeeming quality. Rodney never transcends his role as aggrieved soldier, and Russell is a stereotypical tragic hero, whom we never understand, much less empathize with, probably because Cooper and Inglesby never bother investigating his emotions, not even after a drunk driving accident.
  • Weak character development is all the more troubling given that the film’s first half is slowly paced.
  • Moreover, the script never bothers to make a single female character matter.
  • Finally, Out of the Furnace jumbles too many ideas, and thereby under-develops all of them. Is this a tale about brotherhood (Brothers McMullen – 1995 – is better)? Revenge (In the Bedroom – 2001 – is certainly superior)? The harsh reality awaiting soldiers when they return home (Harsh Times – 2005 – & Brothers – 2009 – are higher quality)? The point is this: Out of the Furnace doesn’t have an identity.
  • Though, it does have great performances.
  • And equally interesting direction. Establishing shots oft focus on a soon-to-close steel mill, thereby showing the mill’s importance and foreshadowing the movie’s climax.  An understated score builds tension. Clever lighting makes us feel apprehension, as does a framing strategy using Pearl Jam’s “Release Me.” The camera moves minimally, thereby letting the cast carry the narrative. And so forth. All of these directorial decisions remind us why Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart (2009) was so good.
  • It is too bad, then, that Cooper’s screenplay doesn’t match his direction. If it had, Out of the Furnace would have been a great film, indeed.
  • Final Grade: C-
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10 thoughts on “Out of the Furnace

  1. Nice review. The cast makes this movie work more than it should, especially since the movie itself seems to want to be about so much more than it actually is: A down-and-out, revenge-tale.

  2. Nice work James, and while I disagree because I thought this movie did it’s job in describing and replicating the roughest parts of life in the Appalachian hills, I can see where people think the story is underdeveloped. I loved it, through-and-through. I thought Saldana was an incredible character and that bridge scene was simply heart breaking, more so than the violent sequences.

    • Clearly we had different experiences with this one.

      I’m not sure the film’s primary objective is to show the setting. Nor the culture of it. That is secondary, I think. It’s primary goal, I’d argue, is to develop characters with whom we can empathize. And I don’t think it does that.

      As to Saldana … I don’t think she has a real personality. Even the scene on the bridge is all about Bale. Saldana’s performance breathes some life into the character, but I don’t think the script helps her.

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