Out of the Furnace is a movie that, on paper, looks like it should be amazing. Christian Bale, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, and Zoe Saldana are all talented actors and Scott Cooper’s previous film, Crazy Heart was a solid effort which earned it’s lead actor an Academy Award.
That’s on paper though. Unfortunately if you’ve seen a trailer for Out of the Furnace then you will not be surprised by anything that happens in the movie. In fact, even if you haven’t seen the trailer you won’t be surprised by anything that happens in the movie.
So where did it go wrong? I’m not going to spoil it (although I don’t really have to) but to put it succinctly it feels like Out of the Furnace was written using the Standard Book of Movie Cliches. It concerns two brothers: younger brother Rodney, a veteran of four tours in the Iraq War who is suffering from PTSD and also being a fuck up (casey Affleck) and older brother Russel, hard working man stuck in the rural Pennsylvania town they grew up in who is a victim of the recession and also some bad life choices (Christian Bale).
Rodney get himself mixed up with the wrong people, namely a small time sleaze played by Willem Dafoe and a big time sleaze played by Woody Harrelson the police can’t do much about it, and Russell goes out to find out what happened and exact some form of revenge.
If you think you know what happens based on this, well, you probably do. The list of cliches here is long. Scene where team of cops storm a house where the bad guy is intercut with scene of said bad guy doing a bad thing supposedly in the same house but turns out to not be in the same house? Check. Childhood memories that look like 16mm film? Check. Primary characters that have specialized knowledge with no prior indication of where they acquired said knowledge? Check.
There was really only one moment in the movie that surprised me, but while I was surprised by that moment the result of the characters actions ended up being exactly the same as if what I had expected to happen had happened.
What’s strange is that there are a lot of things about this movie that could have been so much better if it weren’t for some strange storytelling and editing choices. There are scenes where primary characters have specialized knowledge that they seemingly gleaned from the ether as I said before, but it would have been trivial to make it such that the knowledge came from somewhere, for example and while I won’t spoil the ending, well, let’s just say that if it had ended at a slightly different spot it would have been much better.
The cast is pretty spectacular though, in particular Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson, even if they are saddled with some of the most unsubtle dialogue in the entire film they both manage to sell it really well. Christian Bale and Sam Shepard are their reliable selves and Zoe Saldana has a few great moments and I really hope she takes on more straight up dramatic roles in the future. Forest Whitaker is also good however he affects a weird gravelly voice for the role which …. well it’s a thing anyway.
So basically Out of the Furnace is a really acted film. The problem is that if you put a bunch of really good actors into a movie with a cliche filled plot full of awkward dialoge and weird editing choices then you just end up with a really well acted film with a cliches plot and weird editing choices.