Out of the Furnace (2013)
Directed by: Scott Cooper

Premise: An Iraq War veteran (Casey Affleck) provides for himself by competing in underground fights. When he mysteriously disappears, his brother (Christian Bale) investigates.

What Works: Out of the Furnace is a movie that frequently recalls The Deer Hunter. It is set in an east coast foundry town in which people spend their days working at a mill and their nights at the bar and it focuses on the struggles of a war veteran and his family. The comparison between Out of the Furnace and The Deer Hunter is generally favorable. Like that film, Out of the Furnace features recognizable stars but it maintains a gritty and realistic look and features some tremendous performances. Even when the newer film borrows quite heavily from the older picture it comes across as homage as opposed to imitation, with the filmmakers drawing comparisons between the post-Vietnam period and the post-Iraq period, and Out of the Furnace has enough that is distinct to stand on its own merits. This film is very well shot with great use of dingy interiors and cold but lush forest exteriors. The greyness of the picture gives off a palatable coldness and many scenes possesses the grit and messiness of reality. That rough and damaged quality come across in the performances and Out of the Furnace is extremely well cast. The picture is led by Casey Affleck and Christian Bale as a pair of brothers and although they don’t look much alike they have a convincing brotherly rapport. Something extraordinary about both men’s performances is the extent to which they make themselves vulnerable on screen. Hollywood’s presentation of masculinity is almost universally violent and unemotional and although Affleck and Bale are both violent in this picture there is a tenderness and a humanity to their characters that is unique to male roles in mainstream cinema. Contrasting to their parts is Woody Harrelson as the villainous leader of a crime ring. Harrelson barely appears in the first half of the movie but he makes such a strong impression that the dread of his presence pervades the whole picture. Out of the Furnace also features an impressive musical score by Dickon Hinchliffe. One of the keys in composing music for motion pictures is finding the right size of the sound and Hinchliffe’s score is well proportioned to the events on screen, always supporting the drama but never overwhelming it. 

What Doesn’t: Some of the scenes in Out of the Furnace suffer from noticeable continuity problems, especially in tightly framed dialogue exchanges. These flaws don’t ruin the scenes but attentive viewers will probably find them distracting. The more critical problems of Out of the Furnace are found in its story. This is an example of a movie that leans on its actors a little too much. Although the contributions by the actors are quite good, the story is thin. There are great films that don’t have much of a plot but Out of the Furnace needs more decisive twists and turns. Casey Affleck’s character does not go missing until at least halfway through the picture and the filmmakers show what happened to him, so there is no mystery or suspense to his brother’s investigation, which happens very quickly and relies on some extraordinary coincidences. The conceit of the film is that law enforcement will do nothing to prosecute the crime and so Christian Bale’s character decides to take the law into his own hands. Revenge stories require a slow buildup in order to work. Movies that do this well, such as Death Wish and Taxi Driver, lead the main character and the audience into circumstances in which violence is inevitable and usually unavoidable. Out of the Furnace rushes into that ending and as it unfolds it is apparent that the film does not have to end this way.

Bottom Line: Out of the Furnace is a decent movie with several terrific performances. It has serious story problems and it is the kind of picture that leaves the viewer wondering how much of the story was left on the cutting room floor and if there is an extended cut that would fix those problems. But what is here is good enough to warrant a recommendation.

 

Episode: #470 (December 22, 2013)