Review: 'Out of the Furnace' looks at the fire within
“Out of the Furnace” takes place in Braddock where generations of men have followed their fathers into grueling, thankless jobs at steel mills. The work is hard, unsatisfying, and it pays just enough to cover the bills.
Russell (Christian Bale) is making a go of it, spending his days dealing with molten steel and searing heat and caring for his aging father. Russell's younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), reluctant to follow in the family tradition, enlisted in the Army, where he was rewarded with four tours of duty in Iraq. He returns home in 2008, damaged but still hopeful — like Russell, he's a bright spirit. But Russell is serving a prison sentence for a tragic accident, their father has passed away and the recession has robbed Rodney of any job prospects. He has hit a dead end.
Scott Cooper, who directed and co-wrote “Out of the Furnace,” empathizes with people who feel their lives have hit a dead end (his previous film, “Crazy Heart,” earned Jeff Bridges an Oscar as a washed-up country singer who had given up on himself). These are difficult characters to dramatize, but the driving force behind “Out of the Furnace” is the love between two brothers who will do anything for each other because they are all they have left in the world after their dad dies.
Russell is the more level-headed of the two. He's a responsible, thoughtful man who takes pride in his community. But once he's out of prison, he learns his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) has left him to shack up with the local sheriff (Forest Whitaker), and Rodney has used the help of a small-time bookie (Willem Dafoe) to start competing in an underground fight ring lorded over by a deranged psychopath (Woody Harrelson in scary “Natural Born Killers” mode). The situation is so dire, but Cooper knows how to keep you hooked. He gets small, but potent, performances from his impressive cast (Sam Shepard plays the brothers' uncle) and Bale makes you share Russell's desperation at trying to do right by those he loves (his brother) and those who no longer love him back (his girlfriend).
The dingy fight clubs, drab industrial backdrops and bursts of shocking violence won't be relatable to the average viewer. But Cooper makes you look past the strangeness and focus on the humanity within. Affleck is heartbreaking as the wounded soul. But this ultimately is Russell's story, played with grace and dignity by Bale, as a man who has led his life the way he was supposed to in hopes of simply getting by, until he's forced by honor and duty to resort to the kind of extreme acts that will doom him for life.
“Out of the Furnace” is a boozy, searing portrait of disenfranchised people trying — and failing — to eke out an existence, but the movie celebrates their humanity and makes you share the scalding pain they are capable of feeling, like molten steel on bare flesh.
Rene Rodriguez is a staff writer for The Miami Herald.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Friends recall director Mike Nichols as ‘greatest of the great’
- Review: ‘Mockingjay — Part 1’ a glum setup for ‘Hunger Games’ finale
- Pittsburgh fans pay tribute to ‘Mockingjay Part 1’
- Review: ‘Ouija’ puts the bored into board game movies
- Gibsonia native’s documentary opens dialogue on returning servicewomen
- DVD reviews: ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2,’ ‘Tammy’ and ‘Happy Christmas’