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Review: Christian Bale walks through the fire in 'Furnace'

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Christian Bale said on more than one occasion that he doesn't act to get awards.

That’s a good thing because he won’t be seeing any type of Oscar, Golden Globe or Critics Choice Award (shameless plug for the Broadcast Film Critics Association, an organization of which this writer is a member). That’s because he will likely split the vote.

American Hustle arrives later this month, a film that’s already getting him raves, and today (Dec. 6) Out of the Furnace, a look at brotherhood, duty and honor arrive on screens. Expect to hear nothing but accolades for Bale’s performance in this gritty, grimy and edgy movie directed and written by Scott Cooper.

He provides a community without a lot of hope and life closing in from all sides.

Russell Baze (Bale) has it better than most. He’s employed, dating an incredibly beautiful and intelligent woman and he’s devoted to his Army veteran brother Rodney (Casey Affleck). But Russell also likes to have an occasional drink.

It’s the latter that gets him in trouble one night when he kills a child after drinking one night. That gets him a stint in prison and it’s at that point his family begins to take a downward spiral. Russell served as the backbone keeping the family – he, his father and brother – together.

He has to endure as he learns his father died and something just isn’t right with Rodney either. He learns what after getting out of prison.

His brother, desperate for easy cash, dabbles in underground fighting. Russell calls him out on it and Rodney appears ready to leave that lifestyle behind, but he wants one major score before doing so. He gets his partner, John (Willem Dafoe) to set him up with a match hours away where Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), the fight’s runner, expects him to take a dive.

DeGroat’s not someone anyone should trifle. He’s a violent drug dealer and is often referred to as an inbred because he and his people are so isolated from the general populace. Imagine Harlan’s dismay when Rodney comes close to winning, a move that would have cost him a truckload of cash. He takes it out on Rodney whose absence is noticed by Russell.

He makes the correct move by going to the local police, Chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker) only to be told there would be jurisdictional issues. From there Russell has to decide whether he wants to take the law into his own hands.

Bale turns a simple man into a complicated character in Furnace. Russell possesses a moral compass that begins and ends with family and Bale brings that out. Harrelson proves dastardly as Harlan. He’s despicable without a hint of being able to be redeemed.

Cooper brings out the ugliness of his story without being exploitative. More importantly, however, he brings out the humanity of his characters in subtle ways that continue to make the audience care about his characters. The mission is completed by his cast.

Movie: Out of the Furnace

Director: Scott Cooper

Cast: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana
Studio: Relativity
Rated: R for strong violence, language and drug content.
Running time: 116 minutes
George’s rating: 3.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com

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