31st Jan2014

‘Out of the Furnace’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker | Written by Scott Cooper, Brad Ingelsby | Directed by Scott Cooper

out-of-the-furnace-cast

In this hotly contested awards season we currently find ourselves in, it’s no surprise that there have been some casulaties in the great promotional battle to win awards and increase box office but on the face of it, the most surprising of the lot is Out of the Furnace. Directed by Scott Cooper, who previously helped Jeff Bridges win Best Actor at the Oscars a few years ago for Crazy Heart, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Ridley and Tony Scott and with a cast including Oscar winners Christian Bale and Forest Whittaker, and featuring a transformative, showy role for Woody Harrelson, this is a film which was talked about quite a bit pre-release before not getting much attention when it started screening. Unfortunately, this is justified.

The biggest issue which came to mind after finishing Out of the Furnace was puzzlement at just what attracted this cast and crew to the project. Cooper and co-writer Brad Ingelsby’s screenplay feels  cobbled together from myriad past films with two brothers, Christian Bale’s thoughtful and haunted older brother and Casey Affleck’s impulsive, angry younger one, clashing and breaking apart with consequences which sets up a second half where revenge is sought and morality is questioned. These are very well worn tropes and with a setting which feels as if it’s set halfway between The Deer Hunter and Winter’s Bone, the only feelings I experienced due to the film’s narrative were déjà vu.

This sense also extends to the film’s characters. Christian Bale does his mournful martyr thing essentially like a blue-collar Bruce Wayne, a calm exterior hiding burning pain inside. It’s another solid performance from Bale but one which feels entirely within his comfort zone. Casey Affleck does his chip on the shoulder thing once again behaving essentially as a more hair-trigger version of his character from the Ocean’s movies and while Woody Harrelson gets to play a character we’ve not seen him play before, the decision to have him play it rather large undoes the more authentic feel the film’s world building gives.

All this being said, Out of the Furnace is certainly watchable. Cooper certainly knows how to play out scenes of tension and his skill makes otherwise pedestrian moments more interesting than they could have been as well as a keen sense of place exhibited throughout, the locations and look of the film emphasising the fact that there are a great many people struggling in the community featured, both in the film and in real-life. Cooper also gets solid work from Willem Dafoe with a character who has to fight moral angels and demons throughout, the actor playing this well and proving to be a more interesting character than any of the leads but with significantly less screentime.

In all though, Out of the Furnace feels like a real swing and a miss. A cobbling together of elements from superior sources which despite fine pedigree ends up feeling like a bit of an afterthought.

**½  2.5/5

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