In “Out of the Furnace,” the world changes all around the people of Braddock, Pa., but life in this tiny mill town carries on just the same. Reminiscent of the 1970s classic “The Deer Hunter,” or even the more recent “Winter’s Bone,” as the country’s politics change, the citizens of the Rust Belt remain at the forefront of the country’s biggest problems. The film begins in 2008 with news coverage of President Barack Obama. Members of the community sit in a bar and don’t so much as perk up their ears at the sounds of “change.”
And why should they? If you’re lucky, you find work at the furnace. And if you aren’t, you most likely escape via military service. And if you are really unlucky, you get sucked into the drug and gambling ring that runs rampant.
The Baze family is in the middle of it all. Russell (Christian Bale) had a job at the furnace before he was hauled off to prison (for reason’s I’d rather not spoil). His girlfriend, Lena (Zoe Saldana), has found another man in Sheriff Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker). His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) escapes to Iraq but after returning from his third tour begins to roll with the wrong crowd. He quickly creates a big gambling debt and asks his friend John (William Defoe) to book him for illegal fights to make up the rest of the money. All the bad dealings are overseen by Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), a meth lord whose unpredictable fits of anger are enough to even deter the local law enforcement.
“Out of the Furnace” is a story about people who at their core are good. They desperately want to do better for themselves but the forces that be knock them down one time after another. It’s also about people so truly evil that they will eat up anyone that gets in their way.
The film benefits from a spectacular cast: Bale, Saldana, Whitaker, Affleck, Defoe and Harrelson. It would be hard to get much better than this. The triangle between Bale, Saldana and Whitaker is interesting. Barnes knows that he will never make Lena as happy as Russell did, and so does Lena, but he refuses to give her up. Affleck is fantastic as a young man who we know will forever be haunted by his time at war, all the anger and pain resting in his eyes.
Harrelson is a barrel of fury, ready to explode at any moment. He is unpredictable and intense, and Harrelson gives him enough edge to scare everyone off. Bale is spectacular, particularly in his interactions with Affleck and Saldana, where he switches between sweet, bruised, loving, protective and charming without ever missing a beat.