Writer/Director Scott Cooper rolls out a parade of hardships and misery in his bleak new drama Out of the Furnace. Advertised as a thriller/revenge film, the movie instead is a long exploration of the theme of hope in hopeless times, as personified by battered underdog Russell Baze (Christian Bale). Baze valiantly battles to keep his chin up in the heartless game of life, but his struggles play like the trials of Job without half the fun. At the very end of the movie there is something about an ultimate wrong Baze must avenge, but that really comes as just one more straw on his beleaguered camel’s back.
Casey Affleck plays Russell’s angry, PTSD brother who cannot forget or forgive the sins of war he experienced, Zoe Saldana essays the wholesome girlfriend who represents hope for happiness if only Russell can decide he deserves it, and Woody Harrelson reprises his stock role of a crazed sleaze whose sadism is actually an expression of his own self-hatred. In fact, most if not all of the violence in the story seems subconsciously self-directed, like a wild flailing against a godless world that is steadily, mercilessly crushing them all.
All the cast deliver on-the-mark performances, as expected from such a stellar line-up, which includes Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker. In fact, even the vilest characters are deeply layered and evince flashes of sympathy for those under their control. Like the movie itself, however, such rich flashes are quickly overwhelmed by the leaden hopelessness in the air. Ultimately, the dreary message that unforgiving times do not forgive men who do not forgive themselves drags on so long that it drags the entire movie down.
Hard times are indeed hard on people individually and as a society, battering and corrupting both until annihilation becomes a welcome release. To devote an entire movie to that single missive feels both simplistic and ponderous. (Perhaps its happy message is what got this flick calendared as a holiday film.)
If Out of the Furnace (OOF) had more depth or movement to it, its prolonged exploration of its gloomy message might have been able to keep people from seeking the welcome release of the theater doors.
OOF. Oof, indeed.
(Check out the film's trailer at http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=out+of+the+furnace+trailer&FORM=VIRE...)