Friday, December 13, 2013

Out of the Furnace

Get out your rifles and hand-wraps, we're reviewing Out of the Furnace!

Russell Baze (Christian Bale) tries to lead a simple life working at the mill, while his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) wants out of the simple life. He sees his only way out through underground fighting. When Rodney gets in over his head and goes missing, Russell will have to decide how far he's willing to go to find his brother.

Hey look, a new Southern-Fired Noir! Starring The Batman, Christian Bale, and Woody Harrelson! And it also has Willem Dafoe and Zoe Saldana?! TELL ME MORE, WHY DON'T YOU?

Yes, Out of the Furnace has a great cast (and even a strange list of producers including Leonardo DiCaprio) and some great performances. It has a great set-up. Unfortunately, it takes too long to get where it's going, and doesn't do much even when it gets there.

The thing I like most about Out of the Furnace is how great a guy Russell is. He's a real stand up fella, and pretty reasonable too. Too many times in noir movies, or modern action movies, the main protagonist is a total ass-hat and the only reason we're supposed to like him is because one of the other characters says he's got a good heart. But Russell is a good guy! I am actively rooting for this character to do well and get his life together. He cares for people, he fesses up to his mistakes and takes his punishment “like a man,” he doesn't mind working a shit job, and he's not vindictive towards women. The downside to this? There's a certain expectation of what he'll do when he's finally pushed too far. And especially when you're using an actor who was formerly The Batman and Patrick Bateman, you expect at some point Russell is going to snap and murder/torture at least 30 dudes. And he never does anything to that end. He gets shit done, all right, but in all-too-reasonable a way. I guess this is what happens when your character isn't crazy enough.
It's weird, because Christian Bale's a pretty intense actor, but here he doesn't get much chance to act out. There's a lot of opportunity for Woody Harrelson as DeGroat and Casey Affleck to let some steam off. They both do really well, but Bale never gets a chance to go full crazy. I have to wonder how the movie would have been if Affleck and Bale had switched places, giving Bale at least a little more chance to let go. I'm sure Affleck would have been adequate as the straight man with the thousand yard stare. I'm also slightly annoyed that they didn't let Dafoe go full Dafoe, though he's always a delight. Oh hey, Forest Whitaker is in this, too, but he’s very subdued. Also, everyone in this movie sounds like they smoked one thousand cigarettes before shooting. Especially Harrelson, who has this great, very creepy cough-laugh.

I wish Zoe Saldana had a bigger part in this. She did fine, but her talent was wasted. It's so weird how so many big-named people were in this small movie! I wanted her to go all badass like that movie where she never forgot where she came from but she was more or less just the lost love interest of Russell and even that didn't go very far. In fact, there are not a lot of women in this at all. And the ones that are, don't get treated very well – but that's mostly from DeGroat. So a big frown-y face on that if you were expecting any meaningful roles for women.

As far as noir stories go, this is a pretty good set-up. It's a bleak, down n' dirty film, and I am down with that. Rodney is a former marine and is having trouble adjusting to normal life. But can he take a dead-end job that will eventually kill you if you work it your entire life? Nope, not after the shit he's been through. He'd rather take his chances the fast, hard route of bettin' on ponies or throwin' down in rigged bare-knuckle fights. The movie does a great job of setting up that depressive mood and giving its characters two shitty options. The problem is that once we get to what's supposed to be the real meat of the movie (Russell looking for his brother), we're already an hour in. And granted, all that set-up is fairly interesting, especially when Russell has a little problem of his own, but it throws the pacing off and makes the movie feel long and slow.

Even after the inciting incident and half the movie is over, Russell still mopes around wondering what he should do. Again, you have expectations for this kind of character and this kind of situation, but Russell is such a stand-up, reasonable guy that it works against the movie. You ever watch a movie and think, "Why doesn't a character think more, be reasonable, and just live his life?" Well because that would be boring. The action doesn't pick up until twenty minutes before the movie's over and then it’s still only semi-climactic.It's not nearly as dramatic as they'd like it to be. And then there's a weird shot at the end that doesn't quite add up.

So that's Out of the Furnace. It’s got some good set-up and it’s great at the bleakness; it’s got some pretty good performances (especially Woody Harrelson) – but the movie doesn't quite deliver. There's some good cinematography here and there, but nothing to get excited over. So, maybe?

THE GOOD: Great cast full of stars, some great performances, bleak, Russell's a good character, Good set-up, Willem Dafoe, Woody Harrelson, some interesting shots.

THE BAD: A lot of the cast doesn't get used much, kind of a sausage fest, doesn't really go anywhere or deliver, not a lot of action.

THE VERDICT: $$$ Maybe? There's some good stuff but maybe this might be a good Netflix/rental southern noir. Maybe just go back and watch Winter's Bone or The Machinist.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Seven, Winter's Bone, Mud, Gone Baby Gone, Justified (TV series)

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Russell confronts Rodney about his fights. Russell is trying to be a good guy and help his brother out, but Rodney doesn't want to die like his father did. Casey Affleck really gets to go all out showing his scars and screaming but Bale doesn't get to do much but look hurt. Poor Russell. 

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