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Out of the Furnace – Review

out_of_the_furnace_ver2_xlg-679x1024I didn’t hear about Out of the Furnace until the trailer was released online earlier this year.  And when I saw that it was Scott Cooper’s follow-up to his amazing feature debut, Crazy Heart, that it had an incredible cast – Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana and Sam Shepard – and was a crime thriller, I was immediately hooked.  This was a must see and I’ve been dying to see it ever since.

Out of the Furnace has a lot of story to tell and sometimes it does it well and sometimes it feels very rushed as the plot jumps from one important scene to another.  I wish it were either longer and had given more time to some of the subplots or that at least one of them was eliminated.  It is however confidently directed and gives a great sense of its rural environment.  And using one of Pearl Jam’s most emotional songs, “Release”, in a significant way is a great way to hook me.

Christian Bale capably anchors the picture.  It’s not his best work, but it’s solid and he has some very nice moments, especially with Zoe Saldana, though there’s not enough of her on screen.  His relationship with his brother played by Casey Affleck is really interesting.  It’s a complicated relationship and Affleck does really strong work as a war veteran who doesn’t know how to acclimate back to society.

Woody Harrelson is terrifying as Harlan DeGroat.  He is a scary, unpredictable monster and makes for a great villain.  But I don’t understand why he does what he does at a pivotal point in the picture.  It seems like a really dumb move.  He could get a lot more out of a longer relationship with the other characters than by being so rash.  So that was a real problem for me.

Forest Whitaker and Willem Dafoe are great actors and are always welcome in any picture and they are both good, but they don’t have anything noteworthy to do here.  A scene between Dafoe and Affleck could really have been elevated into something great.  And the conflict set up between Whitaker and Bale should have paid off in a much more substantial way.

I love the great Sam Shepard, who was used incredibly well earlier this year in Mud, but I can’t think of anything Shepard does in this picture that matters.  If you cut him out, nothing would change.

The illegal fight scenes hearkened back to Walter Hill’s great feature debut, Hard Times for me, but nothing here is remotely close to the level of those amazing fights, which still hold up today.

Bale’s Russell makes a lot of decisions in the last third of the picture that aren’t very well thought out.  And it’s not played as if he’s blinded by rage or vengeance.  He seems pretty calm and centered.  So it was disappointing to see him put himself and others at risk with bad planning.

I really wanted to love Out of the Furnace.  I had high expectations as all the elements were there – talented writer/director, great cast, the subject matter – but the end result is good, but not great.  Out of the Furnace is worth seeing, but temper your expectations.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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Brian McQuery

Brian is a writer/director from Chicago who has made 9 short films and is developing his first feature. He has hosted Q&A events at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles for films including GoodFellas and Aliens. He works as an Assistant Director on independent films. He misses Chicago style deep dish pizza, but otherwise loves living in Los Angeles. http://www.brianmcquery.com/ Web site: www.brianmcquery.com info@brianmcquery.com

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