Here is the sophomore film from director Cooper, whose debut was the Americana-rich Crazy Heart. Out Of The Furnace sees Cooper returning to comfortable ground. Set in a small steel-mill town, it stars Bale and Afleck as estranged brothers, and Harrelson as a local drugged-up, ruthless gang leader.
What is so striking about Out Of The Furnace is that in the middle of a couple of very nuanced performances from Harrelson and Bale is the looming presence of a thriller-like soundtrack that is almost always playing and illuminates what the film's trying to do at any given time. Add that to the mix of a dialogue-light film that centres around, ostensibly, a family drama, while trying to have action set pieces as well, and you get a film that is slightly less than the sum of its impressive parts, and feels slightly muddled.
Out Of The Furnace breaks down nicely into two halves, with the latter half of the film ratcheting up the tension with the help of the proper introduction of Harlan deGroat (Harrelson). The worry is that you might have already lost interest after the pedestrian scene-setting of the first half, which centres around Rodney Baze (Afleck) as he tries to assimilate back into civilian life after a US military tour. Eventually he resorts to fighting for money to pay off gambling debts and inevitably gets into trouble. Meanwhile, there's a throwaway love triangle for Russell (Bale) and the brothers' dying father (Shepard), and all of this is used to set up Bale's character as the downtrodden everyman of the film.
At its best moments, Out Of The Furnace has the grittiness of a Mike Leigh film, bubbling under-the-surface tension with just as many punch-ups to add “action” to the list of genres it covers, and covers well. However, by trying to cover too many bases and relying heavily on subtext, Cooper's script lets the first half of the film drag, and if interest is lost in the first 40 minutes, all of the resulting positive points fall on deaf ears and unfocused eyes.
The two lead performances are well-pitched, understated performances, the ominous soundtrack and serves the film well, and the intensity in the few moments where the characters boil over are sure to garner strong reactions, but all of that runs the risk of being irrelevant due to a damagingly slow start.
EXTRAS ★½ The featurette Inspiration (3:30); the featurette Scott Cooper (6:39), which looks at the director at work; the featurette Crafting The Fight Scenes (5:15); and the featurette The Music of Out Of The Furnace (9:08)• INTERVIEW: Scott Cooper on Out Of The Furnace