Out of the Furnace is ostentatiously heavy – on mood, metaphors and the low, rumbling voices of its male characters. It’s a loaded picture, yet by its honestly grim ending the movie has earned this weight.
Christian Bale stars as Russell Baze, a hard-working everyman pulling double shifts in a dying steel town circa 2008. Russell’s simple life has its joys (a loving girlfriend, played by Zoe Saldana) and sorrows (a dying father, played by Bingo O’Malley), but is otherwise fairly unremarkable. At least that’s the case until his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), an unstable Iraq War vet, gets involved in an illegal bare-knuckle boxing ring run by a hillbilly drug lord (Woody Harrelson). When things go bad, it falls upon Russell to clean up the mess.
Director and co-writer Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) has a leaden touch; consider the parallel sequence in which he cross cuts between one of Rodney’s bouts with Russell on a deer hunt. It ends with the deer being skinned and Rodney a bloody mess.
Yet delicacy exists here and there. I like the early scenes between Rodney and Russell, who mostly communicate via shoves, fake punches and the revving of car engines (Bale and Affleck are both very good). There’s also a surprisingly affecting moment between Bale and Saldana after their relationship has taken a turn for the worse. Here and elsewhere, Out of the Furnace has a real feel for loss.
What makes the movie, though, is that finale. After Russell runs into a dead end with the local police chief (Forest Whitaker, somehow managing to out-growl Bale), Out of the Furnace becomes something of a vigilante picture. Yet the solemn way that plays out distinguishes the film from your average revenge flick. The audience may get what it’s accustomed to rooting for, but it’s a “victory” upon which dark shadows fall.