Out of the Furnace burns out quickly

The gritty and ambitious would-be thriller is well-acted but will leave you cold.

Russell Baze (Christian Bale) is Mr. Bluecollar Workingclass, from his somewhat-clichéd tattoos and goatee to the dinged but not done-in pickup truck. In addition to working the steel mill in Braddock, Penn., he is also a master juggler, balancing his ailing father, Rodney Sr. (Bingo O’Malley), loving girlfriend, Lena (Zoe Saldana), and war veteran kid brother, Rodney Jr. (Casey Affleck), as best he can.

Life deals Russell a bad hand and pours him one drink too many; he’s found guilty of vehicular homicide while under the influence after trying to square his brother’s horse track debt with local wise guy John Petty (Willem Dafoe). After cooking for years while busting his hump at the mill, prison is the crucible in which he’s transformed. He is released into a world in which his father is dead, his brother is broken, and his woman has left him.

While Russell is fixing up the family home, the unemployable Operation Iraqi Freedom vet Rodney is tuning up wannabe hardcases in bareknuckle action for Petty. Rodney is in the red and he wants to square with one last fight, but that involves doing business with inbred sheepfucker and all-around scumbag Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), the meth king of Hill Country. To what lengths will Russell have to go when things go south for the Baze clan?

Out of the Furnace was adapted and written by director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) on a spec script from first-time screenwriter Brad Ingelsby. It’s an ambitious, somewhat relatable tale of defying family legacy vs. playing the hand you’re dealt — not a bad start by any means.

However …

The lack of denouement is downright infuriating, although hardly that surprising considering the hands-off, deus ex machina fashion in which Russell’s legal issues are handled. Another frustration is the manner in which the film approaches deep and genuine social issues — the perpetual plight of the indentured working class and that of American combat veterans who get to come home — and then goes nowhere with them.

Hey, so you know, there are some shitty situations going on. That’s all, though; feel free to explore them on your own time, I guess.

And is Hollywood’s collective marketing department afraid to package a movie simply as a drama these days? If it’s not a thriller, don’t call it one. This flick offers plenty of tension but it is not a thriller.

The rock-solid cast offers a generous return on investment, considering what they had to work with. Bale turns in another strong performance as a brooding, bearded guy. Harrelson is on fire (seriously, multi-pronged pun not intended) at this point in his career. Affleck emotes well and Dafoe is convincing, though both are underused.

Out of the Furnace is the latest in a long line of movies you want to enjoy but simply can’t. It’s the film that gets your hopes up so high that you absolutely hate it for the disappointment. Kudos to the editor who put the trailer together, because that is something we want to see; we just want it for the full two hours, not the two minutes we got on YouTube. Whether or not it’s better to burn out than fade away, the bottom line is Out of the Furnace lacks the heat to keep audiences sweating.

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