When I sat down to watch Out of the Furnace, I had nothing but high hopes for the film. The trailers looked amazing and suspenseful and the premise seemed engaging. Plus, how could I possibly get burned on a film that stars some of my favorite actors?
Before I knew it I was already covered in gasoline, and writer-director Scott Cooper was lighting a match.
Out of the Furnace
Director: Scott Cooper
Release Date: December 6, 2013
Out of the Furnace‘s story can be summed up in three sentences: Two brothers have their worlds turned upside down by extreme but unrelated circumstances. Older Brother Russell Baze (Christian Bale) tries to resume his life where he left off as his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) bites off more than he can chew when he presses his local good guy loan shark John Petty (Willem Dafoe) into setting up a bear knuckle fight deal with a habitually drunk and/or high hillbilly crime boss Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), so he can pay off his debt to said good guy loan sharks. Things go wrong, because it was the only way Scott Cooper thought would keep the plot moving along.
You might have noticed that I did not mention Zoe Saldana, who plays Russell’s love interest, Lena Taylor, a character which ultimately only serves as a tool try to make Russell’s life even worse when she leaves him for Sheriff Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker). They are both extremely underutilized in this film and had the potential to provide much needed substance.
Out of the Furnace is one of the most confused and oddly paced films I have ever witnessed. So much so that I had to ask myself if I was at the right screening, since the trailers and production notes seemed to be that of an entirely different film then the one I was watching. A more interesting and intense film that was filled with suspense throughout a series of backwoods bear knuckle fights in a small steel mill town with nods to our post Afghanistan treatment of soldiers. Instead, I was left watching a film that felt like bad tantric sex, changing it up every time something is almost enjoyable or about to have any substance.
Ultimately the biggest issue with the film is the pacing. Spending as much time dedicated to a driving and hunting scene as it does to show the span of four years is incredibly awkward, and leaves you asking “What was the point of that?” Actually a lot of the time you will be asking yourself this question as nothing is really ever followed through with. The direction of this film does this scenario with literally all points it tries to make. Let’s talk about the problems solders coming back from war have and how they are treated, and the motivation behind all the actions of one of the main characters, but let’s do it in a five min span of one conversation. The cinematography is good, with some really beautiful shots, but nothing is really memorable about them outside of one scene around the middle of the film. It is also important to note, that Bale’s character does not pick up a gun more then two times despite the imagery associated with the film; once nearly at the end of the film and in a hunting trip scene described above.
On the bright side, the acting is actually quite good. Bale does what he does best with his brooding quite good nature role, and really tries hard with what he is given to work with in the script. Casey Affleck does a great job as a broken solder, when the film actually allowed him to go in that directing, but ultimately makes me feel like he got shortchanged on this one. Willem Dafoe’s performance is spot on and his character is genuinely interesting to the point that you actually might want to see a movie based around him being a small town good natured back ally business man. Harrelson is also spookily brilliant in his roll, even though he is also given extremely little to work with and his world is really not expanded on in a movie that kind of needs it.
Ultimately this movie stands to be an example of how important direction and pacing really are. All the pieces were there to make an amazing film, but were placed in all the wrong slots, all the way through to the end.