By Glenn Dunks
June 24, 2014
Somewhere hidden beneath the frequently indecipherable growls that make up Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace may just be an interesting movie. However, laboured as it is with sledgehammer-subtle metaphors and a cast of overtly gruff male actors doing insufferably one-note performances, Cooper’s second feature after the Oscar-winning Crazy Heart is a reductive one that lacks anything particularly new to say.
Following a stint in prison for an accidental death, Russell (Christian Bale) attempts to return to life as he knew it. In the years since, his hometown has declined almost beyond recognition, his former girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) has moved on, and his war veteran brother (Casey Affleck) has descended back into his former illegal ways. When his brother becomes involved in an underground boxing circuit with a local ringer (Willem Dafoe) and drug-pusher (Woody Harrelson), Russell decides to take vengeance (and potential redemption) into his own hands.
The lone area where Out of the Furnace excels is in its evocation of Small Town, USA. Almost as if attempting to recreate the setting of a Bruce Springsteen song where its characters deal with a world where jobs are scarce and hopes are lost, but the memory of a better world clings, the imagery that Cooper creates is often striking. With the charcoal-stained factory looming ominously in the background of many shots juxtaposed against the striking beauty of the Appalachian Mountains just beyond, it’s wonderful to look at if not necessarily to watch.
Sadly, the rest of Out of the Furnace is such a soul-sapping experience. With characters that it frequently doesn’t know what to do with – Saldana’s Lena, the lone respite from the oppressive masculine brutality, is particularly under-valued by Cooper and Brad Ingelsby’s male-centric screenplay – and a rather simplistic attitude towards elements of its story, there’s little room for it to do what’s unexpected. Right up until the final confrontation scene, which plays out more like a battle of the sweat-stained beards, there are no surprises nor any particularly interesting insights into these characters’ minds. The political context, reminding most predominantly of Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, is also misjudged and an unfortunate addition to an already undercooked film.
Out of the Furnace will be available from Quickflix on June 27, 2014.