Out of the Furnace

Rating: I am somewhat ashamed that I liked this incredibly morbid film. I wished my psychiatrist hadn’t moved to New Mexico.

Out of the FurnaceWhile I must admit that Out of the Furnace is a powerful film, it also resembles being forced to read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in college. Though that novel is justifiably listed as a classic, you are so exhausted when you put it down that you are likely to never get near it again.

Out of the Furnace has that same impact. Filled with gut-wrenching performances from Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe and Woody Harrelson, there is seldom a moment that doesn’t center on some aspect of human grief. Put another way, it lacks the winsome cleverness of Director Scott Cooper’s first film, Crazy Heart (2009).

Bale and Affleck play two brothers, Russell Baze and Rodney Baze, Jr. Bale’s Russell works in a foundry, as Affleck’s Rodney is set to return for another duty in Iraq. Affleck has a nasty habit of gambling, and he is in debt to a likeable gambling guru played by Mr. Defoe.

Briefly stated, Russell takes his paycheck to Mr. Defoe to help pay off his brother’s debt, reluctantly consuming a large glass of whiskey at Mr. Defoe’s request. On the way home, he is involved in a tragic automobile accident, resulting in the death of a young boy and his subsequent imprisonment.

In the process, he loses his cherished girlfriend, played by Zoe Saldana, yet he tries to establish an acceptable routine upon his release from prison. Unfortunately, despite being a good guy with a big heart, normalcy will always escape him. This is not helped at his discovery that Ms. Saldana is now pregnant by a kind police officer played by Forest Whitaker.

What happens evolves from Affleck’s participation in a back country martial arts fighting game in New Jersey run by Harlan DeGroat, a monstrous, sadistic thug played by Mr. Harrelson. Tragedy ensues, which leads to a bitter conclusion as Mr. Bale seeks some way to gain revenge.

Again, the movie is interesting, but woefully depressing. While all of the performances of the above-named actors contribute to its strength, Mr. Harrelson particularly stands out as one of the sickest human beings you will ever meet.

Let me simply refer to the opening scene in the movie, where he is at a drive-in watching a movie with a sleazy girlfriend. When Harrelson becomes annoyed with her rather normal behavior, he yanks a hot dog from her hands, throws it out the window, and jams his cigar down her throat. Without saying more, he’s not the type of date that your mother would want to see you girls bringing home for Christmas dinner.

I should also say that Mr. Harrelson has evolved into a fantastic actor. While he can play loveable roles in movies like The Hunger Games, the recent Now You See Me and the very funny Zombieland (2009), he also shines playing monstrous characters as in Seven Psychopaths. He sure has come a long way since first appearing as the goofy bartender in TV’s Cheers.

In any event, if you decide to see the film, just understand to make sure that you take some anti-depressants with you. I can only assure you that you will not be singing “Tis the Season to be Jolly” while leaving the theater and walking to your car.