Review: Out of the Furnace

This review is spoiler-light.

When a movie calls itself a thriller, I expect to be, to put it lightly, thrilled. That’s not to say movies that are called thrillers must have car chases and gun fights and dramatic battles between good and evil, but I don’t expect to be waiting two hours for the plot to happen.

Unfortunately, Out of the Furnace is an example of such a thriller. It’s not as though this movie isn’t well done. On the contrary, it looks beautiful and the story is told masterfully. But the issue is that the story is so basic that it has to stretch itself out for two hours, and the majority of the action isn’t until the last ten minutes of the movie.

And by action, I mean plot-moving action. Not physical action – there’s quite a bit of that in this film.

Out of the Furnace promotion poster | courtesy of Relativity Media
Out of the Furnace | Promotional poster courtesy of Relativity Media.

Out of the Furnace tells the story of a young man Russell Baze (Christian Bale), who works at the steel mill day in and day out. He’s a good son, brother, and boyfriend–he visits his dying father as much as he can, he spends most of his money paying off his brother, Rodney’s (Casey Affleck) debts, and he is considering having children with his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana).

When he crashes into a car after a night of light drinking (but drinking nonetheless), he ends up in jail for five years. The only person who visits him is his brother because their father has passed away and his girlfriend has left him for another man. However, while Russell was in jail, no one was around to help Rodney pay his debts, forcing him to turn to a trusted family friend, John Petty (Williem Dafoe) who shows him the world of underground fighting.

When Russell discovers what Rodney is doing, he tries to stop him, but Rodney promises that he needs one last fight. However, Rodney accidentally crosses paths with a dangerous man who runs a Northeast Crime ring Curtis DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) and ends up in over his head. Once Russell discover what his brother has become tangled up in, he decides to take his own form of justice to find whoever might have his brother.

Although Bale has done revenge type movies where he seeks his own form of justice (The Dark Knight Trilogy, anyone?), his character’s attempt to take revenge is much slower and more focused on how his character is reacting to his brother’s disappearance. There’s no skidding of cars, dramatic cocking of guns, or breaking down of doors to discover what happened to his brother. On the contrary, there are scenes when he enters the home of Curtis DeGroat, and the tension is palpable, but the audience doesn’t want him to fight. We’ve already seen the type of damage that DeGroat is able to do when fighting, and if Russell were to go against him, it would end badly.

It’s also not to say that this version of character-driven revenge film is boring. Bale’s performance, as well as Harrelson’s as the terrifying and menacing DeGroat, is incredible captivating. But when it takes until the end of the film for Bale’s character to attack, he does it with such a calm finesse that it’s noticeable that his character didn’t go through much of a change. He was always a “follow through and do things, keep your head down” kind of guy, and even when he’s shooting people up, it’s done very calmly and throughly. I guess that the audience is supposed to realize that he’s come so far and is willing to hurt people now, but considering how awful his life has become throughout the film, he didn’t really have much to lose.

Out of the Furnace is a unique style revenge film that shows the depth of how Bale can portray despair as Russell is continually told that there’s nothing he can do to protect his brother. Everyone in this film acts incredibly (and a special nod towards Casey Affleck for his performance), but ultimately, not very much happens in this movie. If you’re a fan of Christian Bale or perhaps interested in a slow, more character driven revenge movie, check it out.

About Brie Garcia

Brie Garcia (COM/SMG '14) originally hails from Pennsylvania (where there is a cornfield behind her house) so forgive her if she is a little too obsessed with all things film and television. She can be found scribbling story ideas on notepads around campus and ignoring responsible things like "being an adult."

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