"Out of the Furnace" is one of those movies where you know going in that it will be dark and depressing, but you go anyway because you want to believe that good people always defeat evil. The only question is, at what personal price? And can the good person live with that price, whether it is a moral, ethical or lawful cost to his soul.
I like to see movies when they are released and without knowing anything about them, just to be completely unbiased when thinking about a possible review. So any movie with Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson playing dark characters is almost a sure-fire way to lure me into a dark world. Bale plays Russell Baze, an honest (and earnest) blue collar guy that works in the local steel mill. His girlfriend Zoe Saldana wants a baby, and the movie opens with them in bed discussing the future and how they need to leave this small town for dreams to work. I am not kidding when John Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane" started playing in my head while watching this scene.
Cut to Casey Affleck playing Rodney Baze, Russell's tormented brother from his tours in Iraq. Rodney clearly wants no part of this steel mill life, and when he is in town, borrows money from the local bar owner John Petty (William Dafoe) to pay for his gambling. Russell, of course, knows about this and tries to settle with Petty, but he doesn't have enough to cover his younger brother's debts. Petty owes Woody Harrelson's character Harlan DeGroat a lot of money, so you can see what's coming. The movie opens with DeGroat at a drive-in theater with his date doing something to humiliate her, and then fighting a would-be rescuer, so it had already been established very early on that he is a very bad guy.
Russell has a few drinks and then crashes into a lady backing out of her driveway around a blind curve, killing her and her child. He goes to jail and when he comes out, learns that his girlfriend is now with the local police chief, played by Forest Whitaker. When they finally talk, he learns she is pregnant. His world has collapsed, and to make matters worse, his brother is now in deep with Petty.
To clear his debt, Rodney begs Petty to set up a bare-knuckle fight with DeGroat's fighter(s), but he has a problem with the terms; like throwing the fight when he is clearly winning. Petty wants to clear his debts also, so he reluctantly enters into this arrangement with DeGroat. At this point of the movie, everyone knows what's going to happen.
And I think this is why I give the movie a score of 78 out of 100. As much as I wanted to really like this movie based on its pedigree of actors, there were no surprises. The steel mill setting, disturbed war veteran, blue collar hard workers-invariably, "The Deer Hunter" will be invoked. There is even a scene where Russell and his uncle (his beloved father died while he was in prison) are hunting and for some reason, Russell can't bring himself to shoot an 8-point buck.
The characters are also not surprising: we have seen Bale before as beleaguered, Harrelson as evil and scummy, and Whitaker as the ethical trapped in an unethical world. The story was predictable, as was the buildup to the conclusion. I was hoping for some dramatic twist or plot deviation to reference its title "Out of the Furnace", but the lives of these characters didn't seem to be out of the ordinary. In fact, I think that the situations portrayed in this movie may have occurred many times, given the history of small blue-collar towns dependent upon a single employer soon closing shop. The story was simply not imaginative enough-of course the air of desperation around the characters would lead them to drink, gamble, murder and deal drugs just to get ahead or clear debts. I wanted to see something new in this movie, but there is no interesting angle when it is probably based on many true stories.