Writers: Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper
Cast: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Zoe Saldana
Running time: 116mins
The lowdown: A cast to kill for flesh out this taut thriller from the director of Crazy Heart. Christian Bale is a buttoned down steel worker suddenly faced with the rotten side of life when Iraq veteran brother Casey Affleck finds himself in deep with the wrong crowd. Woody Harrelson intimidates both characters and the audience as an Appalachian crime boss spat out of the darkest corner of a mountain, while Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Zoe Saldana offer first rate support. Bruising, melancholy, but memorable.
The full verdict: From the pre-credit scene when Woody Harrelson’s fearsome meth dealing Harlan DeGroat assaults his drive-in movie date and viciously pummels a passer-by, it’s clear Out of the Furnace won’t be a happy slice of steel town American life.
But, played with conviction by a cast who know a meaty character when they smell one and told in a lean, economic style, this is a grown-up thriller to savour.
Bale, all sad-eyes and desperate smile, is Russell Baze, a blue collar guy grinding out a living to support bride-to-be Lena (Saldana). Russell’s burden is soldier brother Rodney, brought to life as a bag of twitchy energy, regret and impulsive temper by Affleck.
Sit-up-and-pay-attention plot twists in the opening twenty minutes knock both brothers down, Russell facing jail time and Rodney dispatched for a fourth grueling tour in Iraq.
When both return to the modicum of freedom the economically terminal town provides, they look for salvation. For Russell it is in the arms of Lena, and Rodney with soft touch loan shark Petty (Dafoe), whom he attempts to repay a debt to by bare-knuckle fighting.
Looking for the big score that will get him off the breadline, Rodney persuades Petty to arrange a fight with Harlan’s crew; a decision that throws everyone into the furnace.
Plot wise Out of the Furnace is from the same stable as The Rock’s Walking Tall and Faster. But, in tone this is far closer to the pared down bleakness and slow burn pull of Winter’s Bone.
Cooper has a talent for quietly escalating dread, Rodney’s vicious fight in the Appalachians and a scene in Harlan’s meth den both exercises in pit of the stomach nervousness. Violence, when it arrives, is shocking and sudden, but the effects reverberate throughout later actions.
As impressive are smaller moments such as Bale’s reunion with Saldana, a masterpiece of controlled anguish, and Affleck’s heartbreaking recollection of his Iraq experiences.
A gravelly voiced Whitaker as a small town cop and Shepard as the brothers’ uncle are on hand for classy support.
And while the ending may seem formulaic, a final shot coda will fuel post-viewing debate.