Silly inconsequential story unrelated to this film… I got asked to review this by my buddy Luke last week. The name didn’t ring any bells so I looked it up and recognised hearing about the film a while back and so I said I’d watch it the next day as it was on Netflix and so I wouldn’t need to find the funds to buy a copy. 6 days later I eventually get around to watching Out of the Furnace. After watching I head downstairs, draw the curtains and notice that I had a copy of the film on dvd sat in my living room. Not my copy. Belongs to my house mate. But it’s been sat there at least 3 weeks as she’s been away that long. So, yeah… I could have covered this film ages ago. Click the link below for the unintentionally long overdue review.
Out of the Furnace primarily follows Russell Baze (Christian Bale) who offers to help pay off a debt his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) owes to local bar owner and illegal game runner John Petty (Willem Dafoe). He pays part of it off but whilst driving home drunk he crashes into another car killing it’s occupants. Years pass whilst he is in prison, his father dies and his girlfriend, Lena (Zoe Saldana) leaves him. Upon release he learns that his brother has been paying off his debt to Petty by fighting in bare knuckle contests. Rodney feels he cannot earn enough to pay Petty off and make a clean break and so convinces him to take him up to New Jersey where the payout will be bigger. That fight club is run by Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) who’s not one to be crossed. Rodney makes a misstep, taking too long to take a dive, and as a result Harlan murders him and Petty. This sets Russell off on a quest to find those responsible for his brothers death.
Sounds like a set up for a pretty decent revenge thriller really, but did you notice how much time I spent on the events leading up to Rodney being killed? Oh… spoilers by the way… See, the film does the same. Now, I appreciate nice, slow moving character dramas. I also like a film that is more about the themes than the events or the traditional plot trappings. Out of the Furnace just takes so long to get moving. It is a full hour before we get to the point of Rodney’s encounter with Harlan. After that Russell only has a small idea of who he should be after and it takes just two sequences of actively tracking down Harlan to bring about the finale. The number of plot points is minimal and the story is played out so slowly there’s times where you’re not entirely sure anything genuinely productive has happened. Which is a shame.
The film itself is impeccable though. Every scene, though slow, is never tedious. Whilst characters mumble their lines they’re always saying something. The score maintains the overall stark mood in a manner which compliments the purposely drab colour palette. Pearl jam’s Release is used over the opening credits to good effect too. There’s a moment early on where an Ozu style ellipsis is employed to skip through events quickly (the time between Russell drunk driving and his arrival in prison) which is then mirrored for the film’s final shot to hit a nice thematic points about people trapped in their own prisons due to their actions. It’s a shame some of that efficiency couldn’t have been employed in the film’s first hour to give us more to get our teeth into in the second half.
The film opens with Harrelson’s Harlan DeGroat abusing a woman at a drive in movie and then taking his frustrations out on a would be defender. This does a fine job of establishing him as a force to not be messed with and his presence as such is felt for the films’ following 45-50 minutes. Hell, there’s the makings of a very memorable film villain there. Unfortunately this is lost in the second half as he reverts back to being a presence for the most part. I have no issue with there only being one encounter between Russell and Harlan by the film’s end but a more active approach by his character to retaliate would have been appreciated. I feel like, in the later half, out of the Furnace is trying really hard to be No Country For Old Men in it’s tone and atmosphere. It almost manages it but lacks actual events, or a centrepiece scene, to pull it all the way there.
Forest Whitaker turns up and does what he does these days, basically being the voice of reason character. I would have liked a larger role for him, because I feel like we don’t get the best from him these days, but he plays his part well. Casey Affleck does that thing where Casey Affleck is the best thing in the film and yet, still, his brother is playing Batman. I just don’t know what that guy has to do to get to move out from Ben’s shadow. Not saying he needs to be a superhero. Just that he needs that one defining role to take him beyond being the other Affleck. Performances are decently strong all around really. To be expect from the strong cast though. Could do with a few words said aloud from time to time but we always have our volume controls.
Overall out of the Furnace is a strong film that feels like it has a mass of pacing issues. When taken as a pure character driven drama about a group of people stuck within the patterns their life choices have taken them to you have a very strong film. But by it’s nature the story is a revenge thriller and it fails to thrill on enough occasions. I feel as if director Scott Summers will have lost many of his viewers before the first hour is up as a directed plot fails to fully materialise in this time. The film is very well made though, and with the strength of it’s cast alone there’s likely more than enough for most people to get at least a little something out of this.