Trailers for Out of the Furnace promise a tale of vengeance, but audiences are in for something more thoughtful than they may be expecting…
Christian Bale and Casey Affleck star as brothers, Russell and Rodney Baze, living a sparse existence in Pennsylvania. Russell has just finished a four-year jail sentence for accidental manslaughter in a drinking and driving incident. Rodney has just returned from his fourth tour of duty in Iraq.
Rodney has a gambling problem and gets involved with brutal, bloody bare-knuckle boxing to pay off his surprisingly sympathetic and supportive bookie (Willem Dafoe). A big money fight set up by a sadistic sociopath (a terrifying Woody Harrelson) leads to a tragic turn of events.
When the police aren’t doing enough to figure out what happened to Rodney, Russell decides to take justice into his own hands. All of this feels telegraphed from the first moments of the movie. It is to director and co-writer Scott Cooper’s credit that that he generates an uncomfortable level of suspense during the scenes between Dafoe, Affleck and Harrelson.
This is at times a deeply unsettling film. A prologue, unrelated to the rest of the film, shows how truly cruel and insane Harrelson’s character is. His actions are deplorable and difficult to watch. The scene definitely makes you loathe him and wish for his comeuppance. But Cooper draws out the final confrontation between Bale and Harrelson so long that when it finally comes it is a letdown, but that is the point. Cooper is removing the thrill of the kill from the revenge story.
Most revenge tales glorify the bloody retribution delivered by the protagonist. There is an almost euphoric sense of gratification when the bad guy is killed. Cooper plays against this desire. His film isn’t about exploitive action sequence, but is Instead a character study with a pall of gloom hanging over it. Bale and Affleck both give minimalistic and restrained performances with Affleck giving a particularly compelling portraying of a man broken by life trying to put himself back together the only way he knows how.