Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Out of the Furnace’ Review: Christian Bale Leads Small-Town Drama

It’s been four years since filmmaker Scott Cooper surprised Tinseltown with his writing/directorial debut Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges an Oscar. In his most recent film, distributed by Relativity Media, Cooper returns to writing and directing a drama about two working class brothers in small-town Pennsylvania.

If you loved Crazy Heart, appreciate the magnificent acting skills from Christian Bale, adore Woody Harrelson or all of the above, you’ll most likely enjoy Out of the Furnace for its stellar performances and simplistic mystery storyline.

Russell Baze (Christian Bale) works in a dead-end blue-collar job at the local steel mill in the Rust Belt of Pennsylvania. When he’s not swooning his too-good-for-him girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana), he is taking care of his terminally ill father with the help of family friend Red (Sam Shepard).

Russell’s younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) returns home from the war in Iraq and refuses to work at the steel mill where his brother and father worked. Instead, he begs local bar owner John (Willem Dafoe) to get him into the underground fighting ring, where he can make a couple hundred bucks with the cost of a black eye and a bloody nose.

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When Rodney and John get mixed up with a Northeast crime ring headed by super redneck Curtis (Woody Harrelson), the two mysteriously disappear. The town’s sheriff (Forest Whitaker) gets involved and urges Russell to stay put and let the police handle everything. But desperate to find his brother and seek revenge, Russell puts his own life on the line to find the man responsible for his brother’s disappearance.

Out of the Furnace is one of those films where the performances are greater than the actual plot. When you walk away from this movie, you’ll remember how amazing Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson all were, but the film as a whole isn’t as memorable. Thankfully its loads better than the terrible trailers led on and if anything, the film showcases the talented cast.

We all know that Christian Bale is one of the most dedicated actors working today. He’s lost weight, gained weight, changed accents and shaved his head throughout the years for various roles. Bale is just amazing in everything and is the main reason why the film works. The veteran actor leads the film beautifully from beginning to end and I loved watching the story unravel through his character’s eyes.

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Casey Affleck is equally incredible as the war veteran who is struggling to find his place in the world now that he is back home. What’s more is that he and Bale have perfect sibling chemistry and the scenes with both of them on screen are the best in the film. Affleck is exquisite in the underground fighting scenes and makes a memorable impression in the film.

Cooper’s screenplay may seem a little cheesy at times, but the actors deliver the dialogue so effortlessly that it lifts the story greatly. The film succeeds in showcasing the small town life of a Rust Belt worker in Northeast America and the reality of underground fighting rings.

Cooper managed to surprise Hollywood back in 2009 and he has managed to surprise me again with Out of the Furnace. The film is beautifully shot, features insanely good supporting performances from Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson and rests on the powerhouse performance of one of the best actors working today, Christian Bale.

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