There are a wealth of wonderful performances in Out of the Furnace. They deserve a better plot. To the film’s credit there is a brutal realism that dictates the action. The problem is that we can see the action coming from miles and miles away. This is a realistically based revenge film and I’m not positive who the audience for that is.
Christian Bale stars as Russell Baze, a mill worker in Braddock Pennsylvania who is just scraping by. He has a girl that he adores and a steady job which is all he can ask for. His brother Rodney, played by Casey Affleck, is a four tour Iraq veteran with undiagnosed PTSD who is having extreme difficulty managing a mundane existence. Russell’s life gets sidetracked by a drunk driving incident and while he’s inside Rodney gets involved with small scale underground fighting and pushes his way into a match with New Jersey rural mountain men. It is obvious from the very beginning where Rodney’s fate is taking him and it is equally obvious where Russell is going to go in retribution.
Christian Bale brings a small town weariness to the role that is both subdued and layered. He understands that he is living just to get by and he is ok with that. He also perfectly encapsulates what it means to feel like you need to be your brother’s keeper. Casey Affleck is electric in his supporting turn and has a wild despair in his eyes that makes you believe in his personal torment. Both actors are believable at every turn and give performances that are worthy of a better film.
Willem Dafoe skims the fringes of the story and is welcome in his scenes as is Sam Shepard as the Baze brothers’ uncle. The standout supporting role is Woody Harrellson’s psychopathic, meth shooting, inbred, fight kingpin. Harrellson chews scenery as if he gets paid by its destruction. He brings a spark to an otherwise dour affair and it is welcome each and every time.