Out of the Furnace Review

Posted: December 31, 2013 by pecknt in Peck Reviews

out of the furnace poster

Director: Scott Cooper

Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana

Written by: Scott Cooper and Brad Ingelsby

Runtime: 1 Hour and 56 Minutes

Execution.  It’s a fundamental quality most cinema goers often ignore in films because of star power, and/or incredible action set pieces.  It can be something as simple as dialogue scenes, expression, scenes structured to build up to the death of a character or even using various landscaping shots to set the mood the film is trying to convey. A film that skips these finer details can find itself unraveling at the seam, and no writer wants to be fighting to tell a great story and find themselves unable to keep it together. Unfortunately, Scott Cooper’s second directorial effort in Out of the Furnace is an unraveling, unyielding, convoluted and disappointing filmmaking attempt.

Out of the Furnace tells the story of two brothers, Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and Rodney Jr. (Casey Affleck) who live in an economical pit, desperately trying to better their lives. Through unfortunate and strange events, Russell lands in prison, unable to save his brother from falling into the hands of a ruthless drug cartel and their brutal fight club. Once released, Russell must decide between family, and walking the line of ethics he has been desperately gripping too.

At first glance, Out of the Furnace is the Ferrari of the movies this year. The cast has incredible talents like Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana, and Willem Dafoe. However, the sum of its parts do not build up for a great film, but rather a disappointing venture in why having multiple talented stars does not equal Oscar film quality. Christian Bale gives a credible performance as Russell Baze, a character clearly dealing with his own issues of right and wrong, while challenging them with human actions that feel entirely plausible. Bale’s performance makes the movie as entertaining as it. Woody Harrlson gives one of his best performances in his career as the riveting Harlan, a character so bitterly evil, I was terrified every time he appeared on screen. Its this on screen presence that made for some tense dialogue scenes between him and several of the characters. These few moments added a level of entertainment that felt missing when Bale and Affleck were together (besides one notable scene). This is not to bash on Bale, or Casey Affleck, but rather the material given.  The same can be said for the rest of the cast, who are left to dig for the ‘scraps’. Forest Whitaker and Zoe Saldana’s roles feel largely incomplete.  Besides the simple character models of Forest Whitaker being the ‘cop’ and Zoe Saldana being the ‘love interest’, they have no memorable traits, qualities or characteristics.

I have never seen Scott Cooper’s acclaimed Crazy Heart, so maybe I am not familiar with Cooper’s direction but in Out of the Furnace it felt aimless. Large amounts of blame can be placed on script handled by Cooper himself, and co-writer Brad Ingelsby. Dozens of scenes were wasted in attempt to provide perhaps tonal support to the film, and instead pretentiously avoided character development.  If it was not for the grade A performances from these talented actors, frankly, scenes would be worse than what they were.  The script’s uneven attempt to build drama and tension leads to moments with extensive pacing issues. This in turn caused the film to buckle underneath the two hour runtime. These problems built up, making the film more of a chore to finish, than actually entertaining me.

Out of the Furnace had me with its cast, its synopsis and trailers.  The film seemed to have heart, conviction, and characters with driven moralities that would make for at least an entertaining film. Perhaps it would even be one of the best films of the year?  Unfortunately, Out of the Furnace was anything but. Its contrived writing made for long stretches of confusion in terms of time, place and importance.  The film’s direction, including the pacing and tone felt so uneven, leaving no time to establish the importance of emotional scenes, or invest in character development.  Out of the Furnace left too much on the table, and is easily one of most disappointing films of the year.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review. The cast tries their hardest to make it work, and in ways, they actually do. However, the rest of the film just seems like more of an excuse to get this whole ensemble together and do what they do best: Act their asses off.

    • pecknt says:

      Thanks for the comments. I made a few mistakes that I should have fixed (simple wrongly worded sentences) but I appreciate it nonetheless! :) And we both share joint assessments on this film. I desperately wanted to like it, especially with the talent both in front and behind the camera. Unfortunately, as you stated, even with everyone working their asses off, it was largely forced.

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