Out of the Furnace Movie Review
If you are a violent hillbilly drug dealer and you kill an innocent man, Batman will hunt you down. That's the theme in the latest movie from Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper, where an ex-con decides to take justice into his own hands after his troubled brother is murdered. Like Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace falls short of greatness, but it feature some of the best performances of the year.
Christian Bale leads the way with another strong performance (no gravelly voice, however). Perfectly cast like everyone else in the movie, Bale's portrayal of Russell Baze, a sympathetic ex-con who has lost everything in his life, is surprisingly powerful. Russell is less memorable than many of Bale's more popular characters, but Bale immerses himself in the role and owns it.
Casey Affleck, who has made a career of quiet, mumbling losers, is terrific in a supporting role, and Woody Harrelson chews scenery for breakfast, lunch and dinner as the villain. Harrelson's character is largely one-dimensional, but he is so wicked and without redeeming qualities that the actor revels in the role.
Zoe Saldana is woefully underutilized in the movie, but the film's most powerful scene - and one of the most emotional of any scene of any movie this year - belongs to her and Bale. The exchange they have on the bridge is downright gold and nearly brought tears to my eyes (I never cry in movies, however); I'd watch the movie again just for that one moment.
As strong as the performances are, the movie is simply good. The first half of Out of the Furnace is terrific as Cooper, who co-wrote the movie with Brad Ingelsby, establish the characters and the conflict that brings them all together. It's all very engaging.
The second half is much less memorable, unfortunately. Once the story shifts into vengeance mode, the film doesn't offer much in the way of substantial material. The plot becomes surprisingly simplistic and the cast of interesting characters isn't given much to do. Cooper largely abandons the relationship arc between Saldana and Bale, which should have served as the film's emotional core. The climax is fine, but taking Bale's character in a different direction would have been more interesting and, frankly, believable.
Despite its shortcomings, Out of the Furnace is a solid drama that is a noticeable step up from Crazy Heart. Cooper knows how to evoke great performances out of his actors, but he has yet to deliver the complete package. His time will come. For the time being, Out of the Furnace will do.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.