The Herald of Everett, Washington
HeraldNet on Facebook HeraldNet on Twitter HeraldNet RSS feeds HeraldNet Pinterest HeraldNet Google Plus HeraldNet Youtube
HeraldNet Newsletters  Newsletters: Sign up | Manage  Green editions icon Green editions

Calendar


Weekend to-do list
HeraldNet Newsletter Delivered to your inbox each week.
Published: Friday, December 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Stars burned by overheated subplot in 'Furnace'

  • Christian Bale (left) and Casey Affleck play working-class brothers in "Out of the Furnace."

    Kerry hayes / relativity media

    Christian Bale (left) and Casey Affleck play working-class brothers in "Out of the Furnace."

You can't fault "Out of the Furnace" for lack of ambition. This thick-sliced melodrama covers economic recession, the effects of the Iraq war, drug crime, the decline of American industry and brotherly devotion. Also, the main character spends part of the movie in jail.
That protagonist is Russell Baze, played by a lean, scraggly-bearded Christian Bale. Despite his jail stint -- a curious plot turn that mostly serves to separate him from his onetime girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) -- Russell is the good brother, a hard-working guy who labors at the failing steel mill and tries to keep younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) out of trouble.
That last part is impossible, because Rodney, an Iraq war vet, has problems with impulse control. He owes money to a local sleaze (Willem Dafoe), although both are in debt to a New Jersey drug boss (Woody Harrelson) who runs underground fighting matches.
I always wonder about movie criminals. Harrelson (who does his usual strong work here) plays a guy who bakes his own drugs, loans out money, drives across the Northeast to apply intimidation and rigs bare-knuckle boxing matches for backwoods audiences. This is a business plan?
The Pennsylvania locations are evocatively shot, and you get a good feel for the streets and fields and rusting factories of this once-bustling corner of America. A key influence here seems to be "The Deer Hunter," with its inarticulate guys, peripheral women, and solidly small-town culture.
Russell even goes deer hunting with his uncle (Sam Shepard), as though to underline the point. And everybody's acting in the De Niro school, circa 1978, with big gestures and sudden outbursts of intense violence.
In fact, director Scott Cooper (whose "Crazy Heart" won Jeff Bridges an Oscar) seems most interested in this film as an actors' workshop. Christian Bale keeps his cool and comes off rather well, his sensible older brother's wisdom a stark contrast to Casey Affleck's self-destructive younger sib.
Everybody looks greasy and miserable, as though to remind us how serious the movie is. But Harrelson's psychopath is so oversized and the crime subplot so dominant that it steers us away from what might have been a powerful look at life in the margins.
"Out of the Furnace" (2 stars)
An ambitious melodrama that gets tripped up by its subplot about crime in the backwoods. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are brothers in a small, rusting Pennsylvania steel town, with Woody Harrelson as a psychopathic crime boss who threatens their existence.
Rated: R for violence, language.
Showing: Alderwood 7, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Stanwood, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Sundance, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.
Story tags » Movies

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus
digital subscription promo

Subscribe now

Unlimited digital access starting at 99 cents, or included with any print subscription.

loading...

HeraldNet highlights

Looking for a friend?
Looking for a friend?: Animals up for adoption at the Everett shelter (21 new photos)
Everett frigate's final days
Everett frigate's final days: Crew prepares USS Ingraham for scrapping
Holiday movie preview
Holiday movie preview: Robert Horton's take on what's coming to theaters
Did Seahawks find missing link?
Did Seahawks find missing link?: Meeting between players, Carroll may have turned season around
SnoCoSocial