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Out of the Furnace

by Leonard Maltin
December 5, 2013 12:55 PM
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Zoe Saldana-Christian Bale-485
Photo by Kerry Hayes - © Relativity Media

Fate does not look kindly upon the characters in Out of the Furnace; that’s clear from the shocking opening scene, in which Woody Harrelson displays the kind of repellent behavior one might associate with a horror-movie villain. It’s meant as a portent of things to come for the poor unfortunates in the story, who are trapped in a dying Pennsylvania steel-mill town. They’ve all been dealt a bad hand; mill worker Christian Bale who can’t offer Zoe Saldana the kind of commitment she needs, his loose-cannon brother Casey Affleck who has a knack for getting in trouble (in between tours of duty in Afghanistan), even a local racketeer (Willem Dafoe) who tries to protect Affleck from himself, and the well-meaning local cop (Forest Whitaker).

Nothing good lies in store for any of them. Director and co-writer Scott Cooper makes it clear that they are doomed from the start…but he never finds a way to transform his working-class parable into a meaningful story, beyond its melodramatic set-up and resolution. I felt a strange arm’s-length distance from these people as they headed toward their destiny.

Woody Harrelson-Out of the Furnace-485
Photo by Kerry Hayes - © Relativity Media

Unfortunately, Cooper and his hard-working actors wear their noble intentions on their collective sleeve, which makes the movie even more difficult to embrace. A couple of decades ago, the same narrative would have been spun as an exploitation film, with liberal doses of sex and violence. In sharp contrast, Out of the Furnace is fraught with self-importance, insistent on driving across its message that these people matter. They ought to, but they don’t…at least, not enough to make the picture successful, as entertainment nor as a message movie.

Images from Out of the Furnace

  • Photo by Kerry Hayes - © 2012 Relativity Media
    1 of 5

    Willem Dafoe, Casey Affleck

  • Photo by Kerry Hayes - © 2012 Relativity Media
    2 of 5

    Woody Harrelson, Christian Bale

  • Photo by Kerry Hayes - © 2012 Relativity Media
    3 of 5

    Zoe Saldana

  • Photo by Kerry Hayes - © 2012 Relativity Media
    4 of 5

    Casey Affleck

  • Photo by Kerry Hayes - © 2012 Relativity Media
    5 of 5

    Christian Bale


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