After a promising start, Out of Furnace turned out to be one of those frustrating movies where you enjoy certain aspects of it immensely but there’s no denying that it doesn’t really amount to anything interesting.
After a slow but entirely decent build up the movie just turns into a very generic revenge movie with little originality. Rather than forming any type of poignant thematic point, the ending fails entirely to connect to you as a viewer and serves only to make the entire last portion of the movie feel sluggishly stretched out and over dramatic. You don’t care one bit whether or not Bale’s going to damn himself by murdering Harrelson, nor do you get any type of cathartic satisfaction in Bale seeking retribution.
On the other hand, the movie can at times be very atmospheric and compelling as far as the depiction of rural America goes. What I especially liked was the several likable yet horribly flawed human characters that the movie has, and how much subtle depth they all have. For example, when Christian Bale is released from jail and meets up with his ex-girlfriend, played by Zoë Saldana, who has already moved onward with her life and is seeing someone else, it’s an incredibly touching scene when the two of them have this awkward talk at the bridge because it’s so obvious that both still harbor strong feelings towards each other but it’s not meant to be anymore. It’s especially moving when it’s revealed that she’s pregnant and he says he’s happy for her.
Given how good the cast is, it only stokes the fires of frustration when the movie ends up being so bland and forgettable. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck with their strained sibling relationship give good performances in this, but nothing really manages to transcends the mediocrity of the movie. Woody Harrelson as the meth head antagonist was oddly charming despite being a relatively enigmatic character where the brutal redneck persona felt almost like a facade. Even Willem Dafoe’s small role as the loan shark gangster with huge debts of his own to pay is surprisingly multilayered. When it’s not strictly about business, Dafoe is revealed to be a pretty decent guy, to a point where he even selflessly tries to protect Casey Affleck by refusing to take him to the hills so Casey could participate in a fight arranged by Woody Harrelson’s character, despite the fight being a perfect way for Dafoe to square his own massive debts away.
Another thing that I found very appealing is the tone. It’s a dark, but homey movie to watch, and there’s this gripping undercurrent of melancholic rural moodiness with a hint of fatalism, that gives the movie that very palpable, true to life feeling. I also found myself very easily relating to the harsh times and struggles of the working class aspect that is briefly touched but unfortunately not really given proper focus to. I’m trying to come up with a better word for it, but to me, the entire movie is basically a metaphor for rusting, the old American dream breaking down.
Despite having plenty of small things that are enjoyable, what makes the entire movie fail is that it doesn’t manage to take all the pieces and turn it into a compelling, wholesome rural neo-noir revenge tale. The story lays too much foundation on the revenge plot, which is the least interesting part of the entire movie, and it doesn’t spend nearly enough time emphasizing that the source for all the hopelessness and economical despair is the slow but steady decline of the rural areas that were once built around a single manufacturing industry. As a result Out of the Furnace ends up feeling like a movie that nobody justifiably remembers anymore couple of years down the line.