Out of the Furnace

Review by Matt Thrift @Matt_Cinephile

Directed by

Scott Cooper

Starring

Casey Affleck Christian Bale Zoe Saldana

Anticipation.

A top notch cast in a modern-day Deer Hunter?

Enjoyment.

A career-best performance from Christian Bale.

In Retrospect.

A strong first half gives way to genre predictability.

A magnetic Christian Bale adds much-needed gravitas to this otherwise conventional blue-collar revenge saga.

There are certain superficial similarities between Out of the Furnace and The Deer Hunter; a steel-town setting; a soldier returning traumatised from war to engage in bloody, underground gambling; even an actual deer hunt. But beneath its surface, director Scott Cooper’s film shares little with Michael Cimino’s 1978 epic, despite a shared fondness for overt, visual metaphor.

Where Cimino (over)reached for grand themes on an even grander canvas, Cooper delivers what essentially amounts to a character driven genre piece, albeit one wrapped in the ubiquitous state-of-the-nation accoutrements of its 2008 setting. Boarded-up homes, loan stores and rusting steel mills used for bare-knuckle boxing bouts — a backdrop of economic deprivation magnificently captured by DoP Masanobu Takayanagi.

It’s a film that asks early on for its moral questions to be taken seriously, and while in synopsis would appear packed with incident, Cooper rarely feels the impulse to put his foot on the gas. That’s not entirely a bad thing, as it’s in its attention to detail — mostly related to character — that Out of the Furnace is at its strongest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, having recently steered Jeff Bridges to Oscar glory with Crazy Heart, Cooper manages to fill almost every role with a name. Forest Whitaker’s hilarious voice work aside (in an otherwise touching, but minor role), the performances prove top notch across the board.

Woody Harrelson relishes the opportunity to chew on every piece of scenery in sight, while Casey Affleck offers nuanced support as the troubled Iraq War vet literally fighting his way out of debt to local loan shark Willem Dafoe. But it’s Christian Bale’s career-best central turn that proves the film’s trump card. Where Bale often tends to adorn his roles with exteriorised manifestations of character — through accent, movement, physical transformation — his Russell Baze here, a blue-collar grafter trying to get his and his wayward brother’s lives back on track after a prison spell for manslaughter, becomes a masterclass in internalised emotional subtleties.

His early scenes with Affleck brim with fraternal affection, but it’s during a reunion with ex-girlfriend Zoe Saldana after his release from prison, with his realisation that life has moved on without him, that his steadfast composure momentarily breaks. It’s a heartrending scene in a lead role from an actor very much at the top of his game.

But there’s finally little escaping Out of the Furnace’s genre trappings, especially as it moves into its second hour. Cooper works hard to inject muscularity into proceedings, but a drive-in staged opening aside, much of its testosterone-fuelled brutality feels overcooked. A cross-cut police raid effects a neat editorial sleight-of-hand, just as a late night drug buy proves suitably tense, but as it relentlessly pursues a revenge-narrative showdown we’ve seen a hundred times before, one can’t help but wish such terrific performances had somewhere a little more interesting to go.

Published 29 Jan 2014

Tags: Casey Affleck Christian Bale Scott Cooper Zoe Saldana

Anticipation.

A top notch cast in a modern-day Deer Hunter?

Enjoyment.

A career-best performance from Christian Bale.

In Retrospect.

A strong first half gives way to genre predictability.

Related Reviews

Black Mass

By Vadim Rizov

Despite Johnny Depp’s best efforts, this by the numbers gangster biopic doesn’t do its story justice.

review

Hostiles

By David Jenkins

Christian Bale gives it his actorly all as a jaded cavalry gunslinger in Scott Cooper’s dour, old-timey western.

review

Slow West

By Adam Woodward

Michael Fassbender shows his true grit in this gratifying and extremely violent saunter through Old America.

review LWLies Recommends

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design