Out of the Furnace may be an ensemble film with a stellar cast, but it is Christian Bale who commands every scene he inhabits. Bale stars with Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard in the dark and gritty powerhouse from writer-director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart).
Bale and Affleck star as brothers, Russell and Rodney, living in Braddock, Pennsylvania. As seen in the Out of the Furnace trailer, the small town has seen better days and the economic downturn has hit them especially hard. Russell toils in the local factory while Rodney goes from home to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq like a revolving door.
Rodney clearly has issues, from post-traumatic stress to an overall feeling of just being completely lost. Where he does find solace is hanging out with his brother… and under the tutelage of Dafoe’s John, fighting in an underground street boxing ring led by the sociopath played by Harrelson’s Harlan.
Bale has to go to jail for a few years (no spoilers here as to why!), and when he emerges a free man, it isn’t long before his brother goes missing. Bale suspects that Harlan is involved and even recruits his uncle Gerald (Shepard) to help. It is at this point that the story that is already grey in color and tone gets downright dark.
Cooper clearly knows this part of the country and shows it off throughout Out of the Furnace. As a product of the coal mining community, he knows about mining towns and the economic depression that breeds social and emotional despair that leads good-hearted people to do things they normally would never consider. And the writer-director tells his story with an even hand that never judges or preaches. There are no real right and wrongs, only shades of grey.
That is, except for Harrelson’s Harlan.
Harrelson has never played a character as downright vicious and evil as Harlan. That’s saying something for the guy who co-headlined Natural Born Killers. He explores new depths of filth and fear-inducing character traits that make you yearn for sunlight when leaving the theater to get away from his dark shadowy turn. Harrelson is astounding.
And Affleck does more with his face than with words, and that is exactly what Cooper needed from whoever was going to play Rodney. He may be an actor one “big” movie away from being a superstar like his brother. But perhaps if he was, he never would have gotten roles like he has with Rodney.
If there’s anything that is lacking in the film, our Out of the Furnace review feels it takes a little while to get where it’s going. But, then again, that may be simply a case of witnessing the slower moving way of life in the Rust Belt of America. Hope is at a minimum and it can be difficult to watch. But what Cooper also does is have an ending that is so brilliantly set up by the journey, that when Bale strikes the pose he takes in the Out of the Furnace poster, you are more than ready for him to pull that trigger.