Cast: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe.
With only 2009’s CRAZY HEART to his name, Scott Cooper’s OUT OF THE FURNACE struggles to disguise its relatively green writer-director. What could have been an intelligent, tense revenge thriller unfortunately soon unravels as a redneck version of TAKEN; a paint by numbers and completely unremarkable affair that signposts any shock tactics from a mile off. However, with Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio (originally set to direct and star) onboard as producers, it’s hardly surprising it attracted such impressive talent.
After a tragic car accident puts Russell Baze (Christian Bale) behind bars, he returns to a place where everything is fundamentally the same, but inescapably different. His younger, Iraq-serving brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) seeks solace in physical bouts, while girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) is far more standoffish than hoped. But Rodney’s addiction to the boxing ring is more than just a hobby as he finds himself sucked into a dangerous world of underground fighting, headed by the nefarious Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). When little bro mysteriously goes missing and local police chief Wesley (Forest Whitaker) is slow to act, Russell decides to take matters into his own hands.
Christian Bale is once again a joy to watch as steelworker Russell, an ordinary man stuck amongst very bizarre circumstances. Though he is at times almost too insular to connect with, his pained silence on leaving prison speaks volumes. Conversely, the choice to let Rodney speak of his war experiences leaves the talented Affleck delivering painful, hollow lines that stereotype American soldiers and rings far from true.
Though Russell is undoubtedly a family man through and through, also caring for his dying father, we are never given enough basis to believe he would go to such extremes to find his brother. With no character allowed any more than two dimensions, the siblings are obviously close, but the emotional impact is rarely felt, especially when flitting between the pair quite so often.
Saldana and Whitaker find themselves shortchanged in roles that barely assist the grand scheme of things, though a bridge-set exchange between Lena and Russell is one of few genuinely moving moments. But it is Woody Harrelson’s sadistic DeGroat with whom you’ll have the most fun, his lollipop-sucking, caged bull breathing steam through flared nostrils. Introduced delivering his very own KILLER JOE moment, a brutal kicking he gives a fellow moviegoer sets the standard for the film’s raw sound design, something in which it excels, especially during Rodney’s bareknuckle brawls.
A last-minute touch teases what you already hoped would be the case in this story about a small town where everybody conveniently knows everybody else. OUT OF THE FURNACE may have complete commitment from its stellar cast, but its story remains unoriginal, falling foul of some laughably unsubtle imagery and a frustratingly simple script.
OUT OF THE FURNACE is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 29th January, 2014.