Out of the Furnace caught my attention for different reasons. I should qualify that. Reason, singular. That cast. THAT CAST.
Russell Baze (Christian Bale) has spent his whole life in North Braddock, Pennsylvania, working at the local steel mill and carving out a rough hewn, tough life for himself. That life is torn from him one night when he drinks a little too much and gets in a car accident, two people killed in the other car. Russell is sent to prison and serves his sentence for manslaughter, finding his life even more uprooted when he gets out. Almost everything dearest to him has been taken away from him, his brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), also in trouble. His younger brother is a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq and is struggling to cope, getting involved with a backwoods crime boss, Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). As he tries to pick up the pieces of his own life, Russell is now trying to save Rodney from himself too.
The trailer for this crime drama from director Scott Cooper caught my eye immediately. About just as quickly, the reviews started to come out criticizing the film. It wasn't that 'Furnace' wasn't good. It was more so that it wasn't as good as it could (and maybe should) have been. The reviews were pretty mixed, and it never gained any footing in theaters, earning a little over $14 million. Opinions will vary, but I liked this movie a lot. If there's a complaint, maybe it's that 'Furnace' is a little too familiar. It does feel like other movies, other crime dramas revolving around families and crime bosses operating on their own. It is dark, brutal and violent but the formula works, simple as that. It was filmed on-location in Pennsylvania and West Virginia where the story takes place, giving the story a gritty, authentic feel. Dickon Hinchliffe's musical score is okay but a few days later no themes really stick with me.
Christian Bale is on a short list of actors that I'll basically see anything they're in. I liked him a lot as Batman and love what he can do and has done with a variety of different roles. In a lot of ways, 'Furnace' reminded me of an ultra-gritty 1970s crime thrillers. It's the type of role that's easy to imagine Clint Eastwood or Steve McQueen playing, and Bale doesn't disappoint. Bale's Russell is that familiar but cool anti-hero, a good guy who's fallen on some tough times. What will he do to hopefully reverse that trend? It's a matter of a guy getting out of his head and doing what needs to be done, even if none of that is the easy thing to do. This isn't a showy or flashy part, but Bale brings the character to life without any huge, dramatic monologues. His most emotional scene is a quiet, moving exchange with his ex-girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) as they meet for the first time in several years. The important thing is simple though. You're rooting for Russell, hoping he can figure things out in a solid lead performance from Mr. Bale.
But that cast! THAT CAST!!! Some reviews had some fun with the cast here in 'Furnace,' the trailers listing Academy Award winner/nominee, Golden Globe winner/nominee with seemingly every member of the cast. Harrelson is the downright nasty villain, his Harlan a drug-addicted, menacing criminal thug who doesn't have a redeeming thing going for him. It's fun to see villains like this, bad guys you love to hate. Affleck too is especially good as Rodney, Russell's younger brother who's struggling to readjust after returning from his tours in Iraq. Their relationship feels authentic from the get-go, two brothers who have always been close, one desperately trying to save the other. There's also Sam Shepard as Red, Russell's uncle who's very similar in demeanor to his nephew, Willem Dafoe as Petty, the local bar owner with his hand in some underhanded ventures, and Forest Whitaker as the local sheriff trying to keep his town somewhat in check as it threatens to implode. Hard to beat that collection of talent in one movie, huh?
This wasn't a classic movie, but I don't think it's trying to be. It is a good story with interesting characters and an equally interesting premise. The violence is startling and far from glamorous, not stylized like an action movie. So in that sense, 'Furnace' is quiet, moody movie that I enjoyed a lot. Appreciate the cast -- however big or small the role -- and watch this one. I feel like some viewers went in expecting an all-powerful movie that would rewrite the crime drama. It's just a good movie with an ending that's as dark and realistic as real life, not a duded up, forced ending.
Deal with it. Enjoy it.
Out of the Furnace (2013): ***/****