Christian Bale’s first performance post-Bruce Wayne is a reminder of just how effectively his earthy, simmering humanity can ground an otherwise flimsy narrative.
Set in a depressed Pennsylvania steel town, Scott Cooper’s ( Crazy Heart ) blue-collar thriller is intimately lensed but never more than predictable in its depiction of fraternal ties and male power struggles.
In a role that recalls his beleaguered rancher in 3:10 To Yuma , Bale plays salt-of-the-earth mill worker Russell, a character who seems designed to suffer stoically. His live wire younger brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck) is restless and volatile, burnt out by his most recent tour in Iraq and hell-bent on avoiding a life of manual labour.
The brothers’ bond is movingly drawn; in contrast to much of the film’s macho posturing, there’s real poignancy in their clashes.
Having lost his father and his girl (an underused Zoe Saldana) during a spell in jail, Russell is released to a whole new set of problems, all leading back to Woody Harrelson’s resplendently repugnant drug kingpin Harlan DeGroat.
Despite moments of near-satirical bite there’s a sense that the film is revelling too much in its own unyielding misery. Brutal twists and violent face-offs come so thick and fast in the third act that their impact is numbing, and the vengeful trajectory for Bale’s everyman is intelligently played but easy to map from the off.
Harrelson’s villain typifies Out Of The Furnace ’s flaws. He’s a one-note psychopath whose character relies largely on shock value; you’re rattled at first, but after a while the impact dwindles.
Christian Bale’s earnest, emotional turn sustains a thriller that throws a few mean jabs but staggers towards a punch-drunk resolution.