(NEW YORK) -- Out of the Furnace takes place in the Rust Belt town of Braddock, Pa., around the time of President Obama’s first election. The country is in a funk economically, and the residents of this depressed town aren’t doing much better.
Christian Bale is Russell Baze, older brother of Rodney Baze, played by Casey Affleck. Russell has a pretty normal life -- a pretty girlfriend played by Zoe Saldana and a decent job at the steel mill -- while Rodney seems to be reeling from his time spent fighting in the Middle East. He’s got a drinking problem, as well as a gambling problem, along with a perpetual debt that his big bro is always trying to cover. A tragic set of circumstances lands Russell in prison, and by the time he gets out, things have gotten even worse for Rodney.
It seems the younger Baze was stop-lossed back into action and returns from combat even more psychologically damaged than before. While Russell tries to help his brother out, Rodney prefers to take his chances as a bare-knuckle boxer, with help from Willem DaFoe’s John Petty, a local bar owner who arranges these sorts of fights.
Enter Woody Harrelson’s Harlan Degroat, a sociopath and the much-feared boss of New Jersey’s Ramapo Mountain underworld. He runs an underground bare-knuckle boxing operation, among other illegal activities, and has a dysfunctional business relationship with John. When John introduces Rodney to Harlan, a particular chain of events suddenly turns Out of the Furnace from a meditation on life in a struggling blue collar Rust Belt town, to a twisted and graphic tale of revenge.
Harrelson, Bale and Affleck are phenomenal in the film, with Harrelson giving what could be the best performance of his career. Because he plays such a dark and twisted character, though, it is unlikely he’ll get the type of recognition associated with standout performances during awards season.
Director Scott Cooper, who brought us the celebrated, Oscar-winning Crazy Heart, follows up that film by spinning a much darker and violent tale, and making a few bold choices, giving Out of the Furnace a Deer Hunter aesthetic.
Out Of the Furnace is a superbly-acted film that feels a bit disjointed and loses some steam by the end. Still, the performances are thrilling and, in some cases, remarkable.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.
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