Having played Batman for close to a decade it would have been a fair assumption that Christian Bale was done with going all vigilante. But it seems that his strong jaw-line is never far from a bit of well-timed revenge and such is the case with Out Of The Furnace. There are no superheroes or villains on offer here though, just blue collar guys trying to find their way in a world rife with violence and injustice.
Russell Baze (Christian Bale) is a hard working furnace specialist at the local steel mill. Caring for his ailing father, loving to his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) and protective of his Iraq veteran brother Rodney (Casey Affleck). But when a cruel accident puts Russell behind bars he loses everything. Lena starts seeing the local police chief (Forest Whitaker), his father dies and Rodney finds himself making a living from illegal fights. Falling in with the wrong crowd Rodney’s life is threatened by violent criminal Harlan (Woody Harrelson) forcing Russell to take action when the police seem to have little ability to resolve the matter.
Director Scott Cooper has conjured a revenge thriller with the canny ability to grab your attention, with little actual revenge on offer, and hold it thanks to fascinating characters and an immersive existence. Here is a world akin to Dennis Lehane’s working class darkness of Gone Baby Gone meets the violence and foreboding terror of Winter’s Bone. It’s a bleak and rusting world, a world in which paint peels and rooms are underlit with a cigarette stained yellow tinge.
Out Of The Furnace is in no rush to give you the bloody vengeance thrills you expect it to be. Instead we’re given plenty of time to invest in the characters, Russell isn’t an avenging angel from the get-go, he’s a regular guy, but when the chips are down he’s methodical in his execution. This is no Get Carter but rather an intimate and often damning portrayal of people struggling to stay above the poverty line in the US. There are undertones of a Western, where men are tough yet have a humanity to them as opposed to simply being built for action.
Affleck is brilliant as Rodney, a pot of anger always on the boil, his frustration at his lot in life spitting out in all directions. Bale’s Russell on the other hand is quiet, reserved and calm by comparison. But once his touch paper is lit it’s a fuse that burns slowly, calculating his every move. As with Batman Bale’s power comes from keeping his emotions in check rather than, like his onscreen brother, letting them get the better of him. It’s in his quiet demeanour that you find a sense of believable fearless anger in Russell’s plot.
An honest, gritty and calculatingly crime thriller Out Of The Furnace will slow cook you like a perfectly roasted piece of meat.