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Out of the Furnace has the right fuel, but the pilot light’s out

By DAN LYBARGER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published December 6, 2013 at 12:29 a.m.

russell-baze-christian-bale-seeks-a-moment-of-comfort-from-his-girlfriend-lena-taylor-zoe-saldana-in-scott-coopers-out-of-the-furnace-a-revenge-thriller-set-in-rural-pennsylvania

Russell Baze (Christian Bale) seeks a moment of comfort from his girlfriend, Lena Taylor (Zoe Saldana) in Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, a revenge thriller set in rural Pennsylvania.

"Out of the Furnace"

"You got a problem with me?" Russell Baze (Christian Bale) runs into the bumptious Harlen DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) in the back room of John Petty's (William DaFoe) bookie joint in the revenge thriller "Out of the Furnace." The clip comes courtesy of Relativity Media.
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With a title like Out of the Furnace, it would be reasonable to expect that director Scott Cooper’s (Crazy Heart) new offering would be loaded with tense showdowns, scenes of nail-biting suspense and powerful resolutions.

If that setup sounds like something that might force you to reach for your heart medication, don’t worry. This furnace hasn’t been operational for some time.

Despite a cast loaded with Oscar winners and nominees, as well as a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (Sam Shepard), Out of the Furnace feels as cold and run down as its Rust Belt setting. Frankly, the locale is more interesting than any of the people who inhabit it. It doesn’t help that the screenplay by Brad Ingelsby and Cooper is as prefabricated as the stuff the film’s rotting mill used to make. Motifs that worked great in Mean Streets and The Deer Hunter lead to indifference this time around.

Christian Bale stars as Russell Baze, a fellow whose dead-end mill work puts him ahead of some of his peers because he actually has a job, a place of his own and a gorgeous girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) who’s a teacher. His humdrum but contented life is shattered when he makes the mistake of having an additional drink before hitting the road.

Even though his younger brother Rod (Casey Affleck) doesn’t wind up in prison like he did, that may have more to do with the fact that Rod served four tours of duty in Iraq while Russell served his time.

Because the mill, which makes God-knows-what, is unrewarding and likely to close soon, Rod prefers to make his cash gambling or getting into illegal bare-knuckle brawls. Unfortunately, Rod is better at beating the daylights out of others than picking horses. He’s heavily in debt to a local hood named John Petty (Willem Dafoe).

In turn, Petty is heavily leveraged by a violent Appalachian methamphetamine peddler named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). Harlan is such a scary fellow that neighbors stay out of his way, even when he’s beating other people up. His instability even scares away armed police.

Naturally, Rod’s attitude is guaranteed to draw Russell into his own downward spiral. The eventual result would have been more gripping if Cooper had chosen not to practically advertise it. Cooper crosscuts between Russell and Rod’s activities in an attempt to bring the proceedings to a boiling point. Because Russell is almost as exciting as his job, all Cooper manages to do is make the already slow film come to a screeching halt.

In Crazy Heart, it was easy to care if Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) ever got his act together because Bridges made the washed-up country singer as charming as he was self-destructive. Bale’s Russell is simply earnest and dull.

Dafoe and Forest Whitaker give committed performances, but the script gives neither actor much to build on. Out of the Furnace must have seemed like a winner when the producers gloated over whose names appeared on the call sheet. One wonders if they actually bothered to read the script as well.

Out of the Furnace

79 Cast: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker Director: Scott Cooper Rating: R for strong violence, language and drug content Running time: 116 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 29 on 12/06/2013

Print Headline: No fire/Out of the Furnace has the right fuel, but the pilot light’s out

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