Writer/director Scott Cooper’s latest movie ‘Out of the Furnace’ feels like it would have made a better novel than it does a feature length film. Its story is filled with colorful characters and set in a realistic richly detailed environment. Every object placed on screen in this film feels as though it has a story of its own to tell. Unfortunately the inherent problems in the film are a result of the filmmakers not allowing enough time for either the characters, plot, or setting to reach their full potential.
Up front the absolute best quality of “Out of the Furnace” is its outstanding cast of actors. The film stars: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, and Sam Shepherd. Having all these actors in one place is almost worth the ticket price alone. As always Casey Affleck outshines anyone else he’s put up against in terms of performance, but only this time it seems he just got lucky with the cards he was dealt. In terms of the film’s story, it seems like he got the most interesting part to play.
“Out of the Furnace” has a split narrative structure for the first half of the movie. It deviates from time to time, but primarily the film focuses on the lives of two brothers: Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and Rodney Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck). Bale’s character is a man of honest means who works a dismal blue-collar job at an old steel mill by day and takes care of his ailing father by night. We see Casey Affleck at times throughout the beginning of the film, but these instances seem to be there only so the audience can know that his character is an Army Vet in between tours in Iraq and also to plant the seeds that Affleck’s character has a potential gambling problem.
It is due to this gambling problem that Affleck falls in with a rather ruthless lot of characters, primarily of which is Woody Harrelson’s character Harlan Degroat. As always with Harrelson, he seems to be at his best when he is serving as a sense of personified confrontation. Harrelson is most certainly the bad guy in “Out of the Furnace” and nicely enough he manages to create a memorable one. I won't go into anymore plot details so as not to spoil the story. Other secondary characters in the film come in and out of focus, but never do they feel out of place. The story always has a flow to it, which is why I appreciate the film. Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe and even Sam Shepherd are all given their own time in the spotlight, but never at the expense of their character or the film’s story.
I did enjoy “Out of the Furnace”. The film just had a particular feel to it that made me connect with it. Like something from a bygone era, “Out of the Furnace” would have fit right in if it had come out in the 1970’s. In a large part I connected with this film the same way I did back when “Drive” came out in 2012. Of course comparing these films would be the same as placing apples and oranges together and asking me to do the same. It’s just the emotions both of those films sparked inside me. “Out of the Furnace” is gritty and feels saturated whereas “Drive” was always colorful and vibrant. If it wasn’t for a few mistakes in the films narrative structure and some truly bewildering turns of events in the film’s conclusion, I feel as though “Out of the Furnace” would have been received better critically. All in all, this movie is a fair piece of entertainment, one in which I would enjoy watching again somewhere down the line. Coming off of “Crazy Heart”, I believe director Scott Cooper could have delivered better, but this material isn’t terrible. I look forward to seeing what he does next, I only hope he gives more time to fully flushing out the full potential of whatever his next project is.