Out of the Furnace has compelling characters, but it falls flat due to poor structure. The tragedy of the film is its wasted potential.
Russell Baze (Christian Bale) has a rough life. He works long hours at a steel mill, and his father is terminally ill. Russell's brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), struggles to assimilate back into the outside world after serving in Iraq. He becomes addicted to underground street fighting. Through this reckless new hobby, Rodney meets a brutal criminal named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) and vanishes after getting involved in a business deal with him. Russell is forced to risk everything in a desperate search for his brother.
The strength of the script is its characters, and writers Scott Cooper and Brad Ingelsby develop the relationship between Russell and Rodney well. Russell is extremely sympathetic because he is the character with the best intentions and the worst luck. Meanwhile, DeGroat is an absolutely despicable and dangerous human being, making him the perfect antagonist.
Despite his charisma, Russell is a difficult protagonist to follow because he is inactive until the film's midpoint, where the story really begins. The film suffers because of how long Cooper and Ingelsby take to set everything up. The entire first half is directionless, and while the last 10 minutes are interesting, most viewers will have tuned out by then.
The film's greatest strength is the acting. Affleck's performance is heartfelt and moving, and Bale approaches his own role with nuance, realistically bringing his character to life. Harrelson proves, once again, that he is a fantastic character actor, disappearing into his role and giving the violent, temperamental antagonist an intimidating presence from the first scene.
Gloom dominates the film's image and tone, but it looks unpolished and lazy rather than gritty or real. The choppy editing makes it hard to appreciate Cooper's work as director, as does the pointlessly ambiguous final shot.
Out of the Furnace takes too long to get to the point, and it asks the viewer to suspend disbelief too many times. Luckily, it is somewhat salvaged by an exciting finale and great acting.
Mark Mukherjee is a senior at King High.