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Out of the Furnace: A Review

Updated on December 23, 2013

Bring on the Heat

Out of the Furnace opens with the sounds of crickets and a long, steady shot of a dark drive-in movie lot. All seems normal—until a burst of gritty violence led by a deranged Woody Harrelson sends us a warning, loud and clear: what follows won’t be pretty.

Set in a small Pennsylvania town in 2008 (right before Obama came along with his promises of Hope and Yes, we can), director and co-writer Scott Cooper’s aim isn’t to showcase the niceties of life. In his last film (Crazy Heart) we rooted for a beaten-down country singer (played by Jeff Bridges); at the white-hot center of Out of the Furnace lies the love between brothers Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney Baze (Casey Affleck).

Like most siblings, they couldn’t be more different: Russell has a grueling job at the local steel mill to pay the bills and to support their ailing father, a man who also worked in the mill. He’s even-keeled, responsible and dedicated to his family and girlfriend (Zoe Saldana). He’s doing his best to get by, and we feel for him thanks to a stellar performance by Bale, who uses looks and gestures to add subtle intensity to an already intense role.

Rodney’s just returned from his fourth tour of duty in Iraq, and the PTSD shows. He’s a bit of a gambler and a loose wire—he’s seen more atrocities than most people and he’s pretty damned angry about it. Affleck, with a thin, reedy voice and his heart on his sleeve, gives one of the best performances of his career thus far.

After a tragic accident, Russell lands in jail and whilst there, everything changes. When he gets out, he finds out that his girlfriend has left him for the local sheriff (Forest Whitaker) and Rodney is competing in an underground fight ring, the lord of which is Harrelson. What follows is a somber spiral of desperate attempts to rescue Rodney from himself, and a study of what a good man does when pushed to the limits.

While most of us will not understand the world the men live in (and even less so the world of fight clubs), Cooper invites us to look past that and instead focus on the humanity: the humanity of veterans; the humanity of the working class; the humanity of everyday people doing their best just to get by.

For a film so chock full of bad things, there are so many good cinematic moments to ease the pain: the use of high-key (bright) and low-key (dark) light to set a mood; the steady, wide shots of the industrial city congested with factory smoke; the use of cross-cutting between Russell and Rodney, adding tension and layers to their different yet parallel lives.

Out of the Furnace will most likely leave you feeling disjointed and upset; the good guys don’t always trump, and the journey of a hero may end up in darkness instead of light. Cooper applies a constant and searing heat throughout and despite the pain, it's worth it.

Movie Details

Genre: Drama, Suspense/Thriller

Release Date: December 2013

Running Time: 116 min.

Director: Scott Cooper

Cast: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard

Producers: Jennifer D. Killoran, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Kavanaugh, Ridley Scott, Michael Cotigan

Writers: Scott Cooper, Brad Inglesby

Distributors: Relativity Media

Official Site:


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