Out of the Furnace has all the components to make it look like a critical success: award-winning actors (Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forrest Whittaker, William Dafoe), an award-winning director (Scott Cooper, Crazy Heart) and premieres at several international film festivals (Rome- where it also won ‘Best Second Feature’, AFI and Napa Valley). However, somewhat surprisingly, Out of the Furnace has failed to impress on the critics circuit.
The actors all make best of the weak script, and still impress in their roles. Christian Bale plays Russell, a steel mill worker living in Pennsylvania, caring for his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) and terminally ill father (Sam Shepard). His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), returns home from serving time in Iraq and gets involved in underground wrestling matches to make money. Rodney’s boss then works up a debt to an infamous thug, Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) who is dead set on retrieving his money by whatever means necessary. When Rodney is kidnapped by DeGroat, police chief (Forrest Whittaker) doesn’t seem to be trying his best to track him down, so Russell takes matters into his own hands.
The gritty subject matter was championed in the trailer as being the film’s key selling point – it’s seriousness making it seem weighty. But, instead of quality drama, the film views more like a series of increasingly depressive events, pulling the audience further into a state of despair. The high level of violence seems almost gratuitous, and the more drugs are dealt and battles are lost, the more numb you become to their inane brutality.
It’s a disappointing turn from co-writer/director Scott Cooper, whose debut feature, Crazy Heart, won an Oscar for it’s leading actor Jeff Bridges, and a nomination for supporting actress Maggie Gyllenhaal.