Out of the Furnace Review

Violent crime is, inevitably, the only way out of the furnace. For two brothers stuck in the Rust Belt, that is their only salvation. Out of the Furnace, from the promising Crazy Heart director, Scott Cooper, sees men who wish for more. Don’t we all? They are not special. What sets them apart is striking good looks. But that is an inevitability of casting Christian Bale, rather than a character defect or advantage. Not all of us have the benefit of being a strapping young steelworker with a penchant for theft and violence. He will utilise those tools later on, because of course, he will. He was tailor-made for the deluge of danger he soon finds himself in. 

We cannot escape the fact that these trailer trash characters are unlikeable. They are not unlikeable because of who they are as people or what class they are in, but how they are portrayed. Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson do little to convince us that these characters are worth either our time or our sympathy. It is hard to connect with individuals whose first actions are punches, betting and sex. First impressions mean a lot, and Out of the Furnace gets off on the wrong foot and fails to correct its course. Rodney (Affleck) is perhaps the most likeable. His inability to adapt to civilian life is understandable, but what weakens it is his brother, Russell (Bale), whose character arc depends on the emotional support he gives sick and dying characters.  

It feels like a cheap way of shoehorning emotion into sudden moments. A sickly father and a handful of debts owed to a shady barman, John Petty (Willem Dafoe), and Cooper has piled his plate high for these evil men. Their redemption comes in many forms, mostly death. They are tasked with doing what is, to them, right. To us, the audience, it is still wrong. These are just different shades of indifference, portrayed as action as though the options Russell is given are the most cool-headed. He is the brother trying to look out for the little guy, and his failure to accomplish that should make for an astounding clash of emotions. It makes for a slow and methodical feature, one that fails to light many fires or fuel any interesting, ground-breaking performances.  

As Harrelson dangles his hot dog (not that one) in front of a woman in his car, the scene is set for quite the violent time. Out of the Furnace is meant to work because its characters are inherently scummy, but it is not an effective utilisation of its characters. Harrelson works well as this redneck white trash villain, but then he feels rather typecast in that role. He portrayed it with heroism in Zombieland and with period piece aesthetics in The Highwaymen. Either way, he has entered that stage of his career as reliable, heavy-drinking horror shows. All the characters here are unlikeable, for they all feel like projections of the same few issues. Slicked-back hair, sleazebag villains and no room to breathe with the brief flutters of heroism so few of them have.  

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