Out of the Furnace
Directed by: Scott Cooper Cast: Christian Bale, Zoe Saldana, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson Running Time: 1 hr 56 mins Rating: R Release Date: December 6, 2013
PLOT: Russell (Bale) tries to pull himself together after leaving jail while his brother (Affleck) gets involved with a dangerous gang leader (Harrelson) from the mysterious Pennsylvania backwoods.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of Bale's acting palette, and those looking for a strong film during award season that isn't eager to please.
In a current seasonal trend of lead men experiencing masculinity in crisis, Bale provides a presentation of such that comes with less of the fanfare of something like, oh, let's just say for example, Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club. He shows the thoroughly Texas actor among others the more fortified elements behind a transforming performance, all while still managing the everlasting force that is one popular actor's constant mojo. For example, Bale can play various characters, often without blending them, and all such characters, from Batman to Russel Baze, will have Bale's unavoidable mole in their eye.
His latest character in Out of the Furnace might bring back some memories of the work he did as Dicky Eklund in The Fighter (to be fair). But Bale shifts this initial idea into a whole other argument, continuing to impress with the way he can fine tune a regional accent, this time taking on the vowels of the All the Right Moves-area of Pennsylvania, where "the mill" giveth and taketh away in disparaging imbalances. With much of the film finding Bale meditative, sitting quiet in empty rooms accepting his marred future that has been screwed up by an unfortunate past, he provides a special performance in a career of roles with various size spotlights.
Providing a pulse-pounding act of violence that allows the rest of the film to feel like an exhale until the movie's main conflict, Woody Harrelson once again plays a weird character who must have been laughable on paper. His dialogue, his mannerisms, such require the very specific flavor of an actor. Thus, Harrelson inherits this lollipop-sucking meth-lord in a giddy way.
Out of the Furnace also marks the return of actor Casey Affleck, a strong dramatic presence who proved such in 2007 with Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and then kind of vanished. Playing Bale's on-screen brother, Affleck even screams like Bale. In the beginning of the movie, he chews up a disturbing monologue about serving overseas with such ferociousness, having to cover his own mouth with his sweatshirt while screaming, a disturbing shade of someone completely uncorked.
This meditative podunk thriller comes with its own atmosphere. Its grainy look (as the credits boast, "shot entirely and proudly on film") gives a distinct grit for its colossal real-life locations, making the movie even darker than its script tone indicates. Similarly, it has a pacing that may take one by surprise, offering quite a few scenes of contemplation with Bale and an empty house, but nonetheless worth it for dramatic build-up to this movie's striking climax; all that thinkin' time pays off with unexpected impact.
While director Scott Cooper's previous film Crazy Heart was yet another wimpy booze ballad, Out of the Furnace stands out and beyond from that film by following its own set rules. Out of the Furnace downplays its conflicts, avoiding the steps of a usual dramatic arc (such as with Bale's on-screen relationship with Saldana). Even most of its storytelling flaws, (a strangely assembled montage involving hunting and fighting, and a few lapses in logic explanation) make the film special. In a big season of loud fanfare, Out of the Furnace is in a worthwhile category of its own, defined by a quality to satisfy only itself.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10