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With: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Tom Bower
Written by: Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper
Directed by: Scott Cooper
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language and drug content
Running Time: 116
Date: 12/06/2013

Out of the Furnace (2013)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Losing Heat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Former actor Scott Cooper made his directorial debut with Crazy Heart, which won a long-deserved Oscar for actor Jeff Bridges. Cooper follows that film with his second directorial effort, Out of the Furnace. It's another exercise in superb acting, even if it's sadly lacking in the storytelling department.

In Braddock, Pennsylvania, two brothers struggle to make ends meet. Russell Baze (Christian Bale) works at the steel mill, even though his father lies dying after a lifelong career in the same place. Russell's brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is an Army veteran who served in Iraq and now fights in underground bare-knuckle boxing matches for money.

After Russell gets arrested for drunk driving, and loses his loving girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), Rodney becomes involved with a dangerous gambler and drug dealer, Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). Harlan lives in the Appalachian Mountains where normal laws do not apply, and so Russell finds he must venture into unknown territory to find justice for his family.

Out of the Furnace is sometimes confusing, glossing over simple details. For example, it's not clear at first why Russell goes to jail, and it's unclear just how long he's there.

Cooper succeeds in establishing a deliberate, gritty, moody pace, reveling in a small-town atmosphere. Unfortunately, this pace does not serve the simple, pulpy revenge story. It drags on too long, and it's too grim; the climactic chase appears to be unfolding in slow motion.

However, the tone does help to establish the strong characters. Woody Harrelson in particular makes a memorable backwoods villain, vile, vicious and unpredictable. It can be said that the performances of the entire cast easily ranks with their best work.

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