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'Out of the Furnace' is a bleak tale of revenge and heartache

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Out of the Furnace

Rating:
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Star
Star
Star
Star

Release date: December 6, 2013

Directed by: Scott Cooper

Written by: Brad Ingelsby and Scott Cooper

Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, and Woody Harrelson

Official website: Facebook.com/outofthefurnace

Grim. Bleak. Hopeless. Tragic. That pretty much sums up "Out of the Furnace", the gritty revenge thriller starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson.

Russell Blaze (Christian Bale) is your average mill worker, struggling through life just like everyone else in the Rust Belt. "There's nothing wrong with working for a living", he tells his kid brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), an Army vet who has volleyed back and forth between tours in Iraq -- the story is set in 2008. But the only work that Rodney can find, perhaps because of pride, is slumming it in bare knuckle fights.

The boys have always dreamed of a better life, but when a freak accident lands Russell in prison, Rodney's problems only get worse. As his debts grow so does his desperation and eventually he ends up in a fight run by a local drugged up mad man named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). Once out of prison, Russell wants to help get his family right. He's already lost his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), but he becomes determined to right his brother's life.

Unfortunately it's too late. A misunderstanding lands Rodney in some pretty hot water with Harlan, a man who is short on forgiveness and long on crazy. With the mill set to close, Russell has nothing left to lose and sets out on a path towards revenge when he feels like the job isn't getting done by local police led by Forest Whitaker, who just happens to be the guy who snagged his girlfriend away while he was in prison. There is plenty of drama to go around.

Christian Bale turns in one of his better performances in recent years. He carries a quiet and restrained sense of frustration about him, angry about his constant bout with bad luck, but always hopeful that things will finally take his family down a better path. Casey Affleck goes toe to toe with Bale. They have great chemistry as brothers and play well of each other in more dramatic moments.

Then there is Woody Harrelson, who once again flashes his amazing range. He's evil here. He's the bad guy and the worst kind -- unsympathetic. Only Saldana seems out of place here. She has a few good moments, but never really looks like she fits into his gritty, mountain town.

Director Scott Cooper follows up his freshman success with "Crazy Heart" by taking his audience into the lawless Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania. The world he creates here is very real and most -- MOST -- of the actors fit right in. But everything is so dark and bleak. The story hints towards a glimmer of hope that never surfaces. And once things go bad, they go really bad for everyone. It all makes for great drama and some powerful and emotional scenes, but the end is a little unsatisfying.

"Out of the Furnace" is a dark and mostly compelling tale about revenge that has a hard time avoiding typical cliches and obvious moments, but it's filled with amazing performances that elevate it above it's depressing tone.

Rating: Rated R for strong violence, language and drug content.

Running time: 1 hour 56 mins.

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