"Am I supposed to be scared of him because he sucks on a lollipop?"
I had high expectations for Out of the Furnace considering it had a very strong cast and I enjoyed Scott Cooper's previous film, Crazy Heart, but I was really disappointed with this movie which never managed to engage me and had some serious pacing issues. The depressive tone of the film and the dark atmosphere was a bit over the top and the story also has many manipulative moments. The performances were solid and actually make this film worth the watch despite its many flaws. The tone of the film reminded me a lot of Prisoners, but that movie worked much better and was way more engaging. This isn't your typical revenge movie, I wouldn't consider this an action film or a thriller; it's more of a drama about this economically depressed town where two brothers are struggling to find a way out and move on in life, a life which hasn't been very kind to them and has dealt them some terrible cards. Many may argue that the performances were enough to save this film, but for me the weak script brings it down by making several scenes feel forced and out of place.
Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) are two brothers that have grown up in economically depressed Rust Belt, Pennsylvania. Russell has followed his father's footsteps working at the local steel mill and seems content with his life as he cares for his ill father and finds comfort in his relationship with Lena (Zoe Saldana). He also looks out for his brother who gets into small gambling debts with John Petty (Willem Defoe) and ends up paying off those debts for him. Russell's life takes an unexpected twist one night when he suffers a car accident killing a child in the other vehicle. He is sent to prison for five years while his brother who served in the Iraq war comes to visit him. They both go through traumatic experiences, but when Russell is released from jail he is determined to turn their lives around despite that he no longer has the comfort he had in Lena who has left him for the local sheriff, Barnes (Forest Whittaker), and his father past away during his time in prison. To make matters worse, Rodney has entered the underworld of street fighting and got involved with a violent crime ring leader named Harlan (Woody Harrelson). When Rodney goes missing and the police can't seem to do anything about it, Russell decides to take things into his own hands and avenge his brother.
Christian Bale and Casey Affleck both give great performances. Bale's character, Russell, is portrayed as a very nice guy who seems to be a victim of the circumstances that surround him. I think he was portrayed in a far too light way, so the audience could identify with him and feel sorry for what he was going through. Harrelson also looked menacing as the villain, but at times his character was also a bit too cartoonish and always tried to have some funny remark. These elements didn't play out too well for me considering the dark tone of the film. The cinematography was really good and it did capture that depressing mood very well. There is one specific scene where I can point out how manipulative and forceful the story was trying to be and it has to do with the moment in which we discover Rodney's fate while Russell reads a letter that he has left for him telling him how he is planning on changing his life and is convinced that this will be his last fight. That was just an example of how manipulative the screenplay was trying to be and I found several moments like that. Instead of drawing me in, it only took me out of the movie. The film was gritty, but I just didn't like the way in which they tried to trap the audience. It may have some important social commentary and interesting metaphors, but those forced moments took me out of it and made me feel it lacked substance.