After about six or seven years of larger than life films like the Nolan Batman trilogy and Terminator Salvation, I had nearly forgotten that I used to really like Christian Bale as an actor. Providing depth to a character with no soul in American Psycho mustn’t have been easy and he was an equally great fit for 2005’s Harsh Times (which chronicles a soldier of the Apocalypse’s – how Bale’s character describes himself – journey down the Los Angeles spiral). It’s a shame that he didn’t seem to have as much room to breathe in the ‘bigger’ pictures. Like those earlier Bale films though, Out of the Furnace relies more on its actors to provide the entertainment. And fortunately for Bale, he’s still pretty good at it.
Out of the Furnace, in essence, is a ‘simple’ revenge film. Not that there’s anything wrong with enjoying one of those every now and then, but you might get the idea that this genre and genuinely ‘good’ or moving films are mutually exclusive, which is not necessarily so. One moment of rejection by way of ‘I’m pregnant and it’s not yours’ shared between Bale and former lover Saldana deserves special mention in that regard (brutal stuff and it was that scene where you see some of that early Bale brilliance I mentioned). Moreover, Out of the Furnace manages to obfuscate its inner (revenge) workings quite well through setting its story amongst the ruins of America’s former glory. Namely, closed down and rusted through factories and steel mills. The (sort of titular) mill that still employs Bale’s character is also about to lose most of its business to China. Some critics have noted that this part of Out of the Furnace is merely cosmetic and that it didn’t have any real comment on the economic situation of its characters. I don’t really see that as a problem, since it’s such an excellent thing to just have in the background as a sort of brooding undercurrent for that other story you’re trying to tell. Though maybe that’s the other way around… but even then I’d say they picked the right way to do it.
The film opens by establishing just how much of a vile and despicable piece of trash Out of the Furnace‘s villain is. Woody Harrelson, another actor who’s going through a bit of a renaissance later in his career (holy shit, True Detective is so very good), plays the part of Harlan DeGroat and he is introduced just as he’s literally stuffing a hotdog down his girlfriends throat and beating the guy who dares to speak up about it to a bloody pulp. It’s probably just a minor coincidence but, like that other film starring Casey Affleck (which this film also does), Out of the Furnace seems to achieve not the usual aestheticized depiction of violence, but something that’s rather more revolting (much like the character that inflicts it). Though that’s a good thing when you consider where the film is bound to end up. Added to the mix is an excellent rendition of Pearl Jam’s ‘release me’ that bookends and fits the feature very well. Just ignore Whitaker‘s somewhat unnecessary intrusion during the film’s finale and you have a recipe for something that is entirely competent.