Out of the Furnace is a film about divergence and perpetuity. The two brothers who serve as the main characters may take different paths, and they may even seem to have little in common, but they end up in the same place: a dead end that offers no way out.
Co-writer and director Scott Cooper delivers a film so bleak and nihilistic that it becomes almost mandatory that he drench his actions in genre cliches. Gloominess. Seedy locations, shadowy foreboding. Characters hard to give a hoot about.
Cooper blazes to a fast start in the opening scene. Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) abuses a woman at a drive-in theater before viciously attacking another patron. From there, Cooper leaves little doubt as to where his film is headed. He continues to paint DeGroat in the darkest terms, someone sure to meet an ugly fate.
And that about sums up the narrative’s driving force as Cooper switches focus to Rodney Baze (Casey Affleck), a soldier returning from four tours in Iraq and an obviously damaged, unstable man. His brother Russell (Christian Bale), first seen in jail, returns home to work, as his father did before him, in the bleak iron mill of North Braddock, Pa.
Rodney tries his hand at bare-knuckle fighting and becomes unintentionally connected to DeGroat. Nothing goes as planned, and the story must fill in with routine divergences.
Director Cooper leads up to this transparent inevitability with a faux-Tarantino methodology of prolonged bouts of tedium and talkiness punctuated by cruel acts of violence. But he does so with none of Quentin Tarantino’s wit or invention. Cooper inserts a gratuitous subplot about Russell’s former girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) who hooked up with the town sheriff (a curiously wasted Forest Whitaker) while Russell was in jail.
Woody Harrelson looks eerily comfortable in his standard madman role, and for their part, the cast comes off well enough, considering what cretinous characters they are asked to play.
Out of the Furnace
2.5 stars out of 5.
Rated R, 116 minutes. Opens Friday.