Review: Out of the Furnace
Set in the dreary and gritty Rust Belt and immersed in the blue-collar spirit of Americana, two brothers, one a soldier and the other a factory laborer, struggle to stay afloat. An accident lands the older Russell in jail, leaving behind his brother Rodney, father, and girlfriend to their own devices. In need of money, and perhaps salvation, Rodney enters into a vicious underground fighting circle, forcing Russell to try to bring him to safety and seek justice.
Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are brothers Russell and Rodney Baze, both tough yet noble. Woody Harrelson is buffed up and maniacal, while Willem Defoe is pretty creepy. Forest Whitaker shows up as the local Sherriff, and Zoe Saldana makes an appearance as Russell’s love interest because, well, there has to be a woman in the film.
The softest, most beautiful presence in Out of the Furnace are the brief appearances of Zoe Saldana, but even scenes with the gorgeous actress are fraught with tension and despair. For the rest of the time, the screen is inhabited by brooding and troubled men who are some combination of bloody, high, terrified, or terrifying.
The first we meet is Harlan DeGroat, a fantastically-named and short-tempered townie with such anger and brutality by Woody Harrelson that you can’t believe the same actor is the sweet and loveable Haymitch from The Hunger Games. After demonstrating his penchant for confrontation, and winning such confrontations, we encounter a pair of scruffy and chummy brothers, nobler and more likeable, though still rough around the edges.
Christian Bale is another man who continues to disappear into roles, here greasy and wide-eyed, playing an honest peon named Russell Baze , a man plagued by timing and circumstance in both the short and long term. His involvement in an accident lands him in jail, leaving his younger brother to take care of himself and their father, and his girlfriend – the aforementioned Saldana – to carry on about herself.
Nothing comes easy for the brothers Baze, especially the younger Rodney, a disillusioned man played with pride and purpose by Casey Affleck (who may not be the best director in the family perhaps the best actor). Without money despite having served his country in the military, Rodney gambles and fights to earn a living.
The plight of both brothers is uncomfortably gritty and atmospherically chilly, a physically and emotionally-draining existence that traps the audience within as well. Rodney involves himself with some questionable company; DeGroat and his gang like to do drugs, fight, and do so to such an extent that they scare of police officers.
Russell isn’t scared however when Rodney gets in trouble, and despite the protestations of a local policeman played by Forest Whitaker, the older, scruffier, and likely wiser brother sets off. Russell wants to live, despite the troubles of his life. He sees the positives. Rodney seeks pain and punishment.
There is but a brief moment in the film where you can relax as Russell and his girlfriend lie in bed, but that moment is just as fleeting for us as it is them; Russell has to pull a double shift. While the film plays out in a rather standard formula, it’s still at times shocking, and the tension maintains through the slower moments.
It’s all about the brothers though. With so much hardship, family is paramount, and can motivate, enliven, and save. If you want to be saved.
Should You See It?
This is one heavy watch, powered by great acting. Check it out.