“Out of the Furnace” is a beautiful looking film, filled with good performances from a fantastic ensemble, which makes you wonder how the story was not up to snuff? Overly contemplative, the film relies more on ideas than actual narrative, which creates a disconnect. The follow-up to Scott Cooper’s debut “Crazy Heart,” the director said he wanted to make a personal film, and he may have, but it may only be that way for him.
Starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Sam Shepard and Willem Dafoe, the acting was top notch. Bale is quiet but earnest, Affleck is wiry and unhinged, and Harrelson is a loose canon and exceedingly menacing. Also, Zoe Saldana and Forest Whitaker are good in small roles.
Cooper and team did an excellent job with the look and feel of the town. Set in a steel town in Pennsylvania and the Appalachian mountains in New Jersey, it is a very unique world, and one that fits the story perfectly. They capture it simply and beautifully.
So they nailed two out of three of the key elements you need to have a good film, but they just dropped the big one. The story is completely lacking. Bale is a character who has suffered much tragedy in life, and after losing his brother he decides to take revenge against the man who did it (Harrelson’s character).
A decent enough logline, but Cooper failed to successfully expand on that and bring the film’s themes in better. My evidence to support that being I have no idea what the themes are. Bale’s character goes through many hardships and on hearing of his brother’s death he simply snaps. It’s jarring because what we’ve seen from the character makes it hard to really buy that.
Cooper says that films like “The Godfather Part II” influenced him, and some have compared “Out of the Furnace” to “The Deer Hunter,” but other than a few homages to both films, there is little to support that. Those films were contemplative, subtle with their larger ideas but their narratives pushed those ides to the forefront. “Furnace” doesn’t.
There are a number of strong moments where you can tell that Cooper’s vision really came through, but as a whole the film does not deliver whatever message Cooper wanted. The audience is left dumbfounded to what they’ve just seen, not sure what to make of it.