UK Release Date: 29th January 2014
Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: Scott Cooper
Writer: Scott Cooper, Brad Ingelsby
Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker
Synopsis: A steel mill worker finds himself embroiled in a mess of criminality when his wayward brother disappears in the midst of a bare knuckle boxing racket.
Dark, recession dramas are all the rage at the moment. Following 2012’s poetic gangster flick Killing Them Softly is Scott Cooper’s tale of brutality and crime in a steel town. Out of the Furnace features Christian Bale in what might be his best performance since American Psycho.
In 2008, Mill worker Russell (Christian Bale) is struggling to balance girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) and his unreliable soldier brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) when he is imprisoned following a car accident. On his release, Rodney’s debt to John Petty (Willem Dafoe) leads to him falling into the world of bare knuckle boxing and the path of the psychopathic Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).
Much like last year’s Prisoners, Out of the Furnace is a thriller with a black, bleak heart. Its cinematography is grey, brown and grimy to the maximum, with Masanobu Takayanagi echoing the work of the great Roger Deakins. This visual style adds a level of gritty realism to the film that makes the brutality of the story all the more powerful.
| "Working for a living? I gave my life for this country and what’s it done for me?"
Christian Bale’s central performance is a measured example of understated, but intense, power. Similar in many ways to Josh Brolin’s hunter Llewelyn Moss in No Country For Old Men, Bale broods silently and is drawn into violence and crime out of necessity rather than choice. Casey Affleck is the yin to Bale’s yang, chaotic and unpredictable.
The true star of Out of the Furnace though is Woody Harrelson, portraying one of the most terrifying screen villains of recent years. Whether he’s sticking bullets in people’s brains or injecting meth into his toes, he is a truly insane and terrifying creation.
Out of the Furnace both benefits from and struggles with its glacial pacing. Initially, the story struggles to kick into gear as it ambles through the lives of its characters, but it ratchets up when the stories of the central people intertwine and merge. The third act is a solid piece of tension cinema, punctuated by bursts of shocking ultra-violence.
| "Am I supposed to be scared of him because he sucks on a lollipop?"
The film is, in many ways, a game of two halves. It splutters through its dull early stages, but steams into a machismo-infused, frenetic final act that proves a bleak, blistering portrait of deprived America.
Pop or Poop?
Films about the bleak years of the financial crisis are not rare, but Out of the Furnace is a particularly impressive entry in that growing sub-genre.
Christian Bale is on fine form in the central, brooding role, turning in a complex performance. Less nuanced, but equally strong, is Woody Harrelson as a broiling, drug-addled psychopath.
Unfortunately, Out of the Furnace does have flaws lurking within it that stop it from being a real example of a great film.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.