After trying so hard to watch over his little brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), Russell Baze (Christian Bale) has a little too much to drink, jumps behind the wheel of his pickup truck, and gets into a severe accident that haunts him for the rest of his days. Once his prison sentence ends, Russell's life on the outside dramatically changes with his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) leaving him for a police officer named Chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker), attempting to adjust to life without his father, and his brother Rodney trying to make a living off of underground boxing. Rodney winds up owing a lot of money to all the wrong types of people and turns up missing after doing business with an unpredictable redneck named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). Russell becomes impatient with how the authorities are handling his brother's disappearance and decides to take matters into his own hands.
"Out of the Furnace" has a way of letting simple shots in the film tell the story; scenes that only last a few, precious extra seconds that allow the scene to sink in just a little bit more to make them feel somewhat extraordinary. These scenes usually involve the camera slowly panning away from Russell during passionate moments like his prison scuffle, his confrontation with Lena on the bridge, and glancing up in the factory in the final moments of the film.
Much of the film is devoted to Russell trying to work hard and enjoy his life while his brother Rodney is so affected by his last trip to Afghanistan that he's become unstable, unpredictable, and unrealistically angry. Casey Affleck does a fairly good job portraying Rodney's short fused emotions. This is the darkest Woody Harrelson has been in quite some time, as well. Harlan is stubborn, menacing, and a stone's throw away from being completely insane. You first see him beating the snot out of a man at a drive-in who tried to step in when Harlan shoved his date's face into the dash of his car. Along with "American Hustle," 2013 has seen Christian Bale return to the impeccable talent you've come to expect from the Welsh actor. In "Out of the Furnace," Bale portrays a complete spectrum of emotions. Russell is completely driven yet emotionally ripped apart over the course of the film.
However, there are so many questions left unanswered by the end of Scott Cooper's film. Films that crawl along or are considered a slow burn have the potential to be great. They don't rush things, they establish characters and develop plot points properly, and the violent sequences are that much harsher and have a stronger bite than if the film had been any different. Unfortunately for "Out of the Furnace," the payoff isn't worth the journey. The ending of the film will leave you baffled, especially after witnessing the actions Russell takes during his hunting trip. Does Forest Whitaker talk so raspy because he's around Christian Bale and he wants to show him that he can do the Batman voice, too? Did Lena leave Russell solely because of his actions? Is she with Wesley because he's so devoted to doing the right thing? "Out of the Furnace" is intriguing, but at the same time infuriating. Films don't exactly have to give you everything up front, but it seems like this film doesn't give you enough to put it all together. You expect this exciting conclusion and all you receive is overdramatic and unfulfilling fluff.
"Out of the Furnace" feels like a companion piece to last year's "Killing Them Softly" in the way it's paced, its tone, and even its time period. But unlike "Killing Them Softly," Scott Cooper's thriller is never able to fully capitalize on its threatening ambiance, which leaves too much up in the air and a lukewarm opinion of what could have otherwise been an expertly crafted and very well acted film.
"Out of the Furnace" was released in theaters across the country starting yesterday, December 6.