Following his country music biopic Crazy Heart, Scott Cooper continues his indie movie trend with Out of the Furnace. The film is an attempt to follow in the footsteps of similar titles such as Killing Them Softly and The Place Beyond the Pines, but it overdoes its efforts to reflect a blue-collar storyline and ultimately the film’s magnificent performances save it.
Set in 2008 and the rotting steel town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, Christian Bale plays Russell Baze, who is stuck in a dead end job at the local steel factory. Early on we witness him kill two people in a drink driving accident which he inevitably serves time for. His brother Rodney, played by Casey Affleck, is a war vet mentally damaged by incidents he has witnessed in Iraq. After struggling to come to terms with a blue-collar job, Rodney delves into the bare-knuckle fight business, which leads him to an involvement with some dangerous hillbillies from New Jersey headed by Woody Harrelson.
Although his character lacks enough emotional fatigue given numerous incidents in the film, Bale handles his role extremely well throughout. It is a shame therefore that we do not get to see more of his relationship with Zoe Saldana’s character, Lena. Nevertheless, Affleck also gives a powerful performance, nailing the intensity and drama of his scenes, and Harrelson offers himself to be as frightening as ever in the villain role. Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker are also wasted along with Saldana, but the film boasts an impressive cast nonetheless and they certainly pull through despite the movie’s downfalls.
In addition to a powerful on-screen presence, the film is shot beautifully, displaying a number of shots that fully reflect the working class lifestyle of the town, it’s peoples and as a result, the atmosphere certainly hits home.
However, the focus on its art-house style is too much and the storyline consequently suffers. The film never really takes off and is simply mundane and unspectacular. The impressive overtones fail to make up for its typically clichéd trend and as a result the film lacks originality.