The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Out of the Furnace

Did you ever take something apart, then find that you couldn't get it back together the right way? That's the problem faced by Out of the Furnace. The individual pieces of this movie will be overly familiar to most viewers, and yet the way they're assembled is completely lacking in freshness or suspense. Watching it, I kept thinking of Winter's Bone, which is very similar in terms of setting and plot. That film, however, put the parts together in a manner that was riveting. Out of the Furnace is just excruciatingly dull.

Christian Bale plays Russell Baze, a Pittsburgh steel worker who's always looking out for his ne'er-do-well younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck). A vet who has served multiple tours of duty in Iraq, Rodney is perpetually in debt to John Petty (Willem Dafoe), the bookie who gets him bare-knuckle fighting gigs. Hoping for a big score, he requests a fight in the higher-stakes New Jersey mountains. Woody Harrelson plays Harlan DeGroat, a ruthless drug dealer who rules the roost there. (We know he's evil because he lights his cigarettes with a blow torch.) Harlan wants Rodney to take a dive. The young fighter doesn't want to. Yeah, it's that old chestnut. When Rodney subsequently goes missing, and when law enforcement (represented by Forest Whittaker) does nothing about it, Russell goes in search of a little justice.

That sounds like the setup for a decent, if formulaic, crime thriller, right? It would be, except that it takes a full hour before Rodney goes missing and Russell goes on the hunt. Things do pick up slightly in the final 45 minutes, but prior to that, the movie feels like it's pointlessly marking time. Nowhere is this more evident than in the half-baked love story between Russell and his ex-girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana), who just happens to be dating the cop now. Far too much time is spent plodding through material such as this, or on re-hitting the same Russell-looks-out-for-Rodney note again and again. It slows down the film's pace to a point where you're likely to zone out.

Out of the Furnace takes place in all the usual locations: seedy bars, rundown streets, drug houses where junkies stare glassy-eyed into the distance, etc. It is filled with cliches, such as the moment where Russell poses as a potential drug buyer to get close to Harlan and has to repeatedly insist that he's not a cop. It also has desperately heavy-handed symbolism, such as a sequence in which Rodney finding himself in danger is contrasted with Russell skinning a deer. You know, just in case you don't get the point. Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) and co-screenwriter Brad Ingelsby have obviously seen a lot of these gritty “dead-end town” thrillers, yet they devise nothing new to add to the mix. Literally everything in Out of the Furnace feels rehashed. The one glimmer of potential originality is, sadly, lost in the shuffle. There are inklings of a theme as to whether Russell can kill. When we first meet him, he goes to jail for killing people in a DUI, and later he's unable to shoot a deer while hunting. We're presumably supposed to wonder if he can go through with killing Harlan should he find him, but so much other stuff gets in the way that this idea never fully forms.

The actors all give committed performances, especially Woody Harrelson, who is genuinely menacing. But there are so many movies just like Out of the Furnace, and a lot of them are so much better. This one never works up the dramatic juice to let us know why we should care about any of it.

( 1/2 out of four)

Out of the Furnace is rated R for strong violence, language and drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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