Out of the Furnace tackles tough topics

Chris­ti­an Bale (left) and Ca­sey Af­fleck in Out of the Fur­nace, set in Brad­dock, a steel mill town just east of Pitt­s­burgh.

Is there a bet­ter set­ting for a bleak, gritty flick than West­ern Pennsylvania? Set in Brad­dock, a steel mill town just east of Pitt­s­burgh where 35 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is un­der the poverty line, the set­ting is one of the few things that Out of the Fur­nace gets right. 

The pa­cing was a big prob­lem. Out of the Fur­nace took a while to get go­ing and left a lit­any of un­answered ques­tions along the way.

Dir­ect­or Scott Cooper’s last flick was the well-re­garded Crazy Heart, which won an Oscar for Jeff Bridges. While the per­form­ances from stars Chris­ti­an Bale and Ca­sey Af­fleck are com­mit­ted and be­liev­ably au­then­t­ic, I don’t pre­dict any awards in the fu­ture for Out of the Fur­nace.

The main char­ac­ter is Rus­sell Baze (Bale), who works at that steel mill and takes care of his ail­ing fath­er. He’s got a re­l­at­ively happy home life with his girl­friend Lena (Zoe Saldana), and they hope to start a fam­ily soon. Rus­sell’s little broth­er Rod­ney (Af­fleck) took a dif­fer­ent path hop­ing to es­cape the steel mill life and en­lis­ted in the Army. After sev­er­al tours in Ir­aq, when Rod­ney re­turns back home he gets in­to some gambling debt and pur­sues bare-knuckle fight­ing as a way to pay off his debts.

Mean­while, Rus­sell has been sen­tenced to pris­on for an un­for­tu­nate in­cid­ent and isn’t there to help guide his little bro. Rus­sell’s girl­friend also leaves him for the more stable Brad­dock po­lice chief (Forest Whi­taker).

Think­ing it will help pay off his debts once and for all, Rod­ney gets mixed up with the evil fight pro­moter/meth deal­er Har­lan De­Groat (Woody Har­rel­son) from the Ramapo Moun­tains of New Jer­sey and sub­sequently dis­ap­pears. Rus­sell, now re­leased from pris­on, re­fuses to let the au­thor­it­ies handle his broth­er’s dis­ap­pear­ance and seeks his own an­swers and re­venge.

I found the dis­ap­pear­ance of Rod­ney the most in­ter­est­ing part of the movie, but un­for­tu­nately that didn’t hap­pen un­til about three-fourths of the way through. Up un­til that point, it was all very slow mov­ing for me.

If you’re look­ing for something dif­fer­ent from the more fam­ily-friendly movies like Frozen and The Hun­ger Games: Catch­ing Fire, Out of the Fur­nace cer­tainly fits the bill. The bare-knuckle fight­ing scenes were a bit much for me, as was the vi­ol­ence un­der­taken by Har­lan De­Groat. Even the movie’s open­ing scene es­tab­lishes Har­lan as a bad guy not to be messed with when he’s on a date with a lady at the drive-in movie theat­er. Woody Har­rel­son is an ex­cel­lent vil­lain, as he has been in many movies pri­or to this one.

Out of the Fur­nace tackles some tough top­ics dur­ing its two-hour runtime. Happy, hol­i­day movie this is not. Now, not every movie needs a Hol­ly­wood end­ing, and I don’t mind a gritty movie every now and then, but ul­ti­mately Out of the Fur­nace didn’t leave me want­ing to see more. ••

Movie Grade: C+

You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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