Out of the Furnace is co-writer/director Scott Cooper's sophomore outing. His down-and-out country singer flick Crazy Heart got critic and audience raves and Jeff Bridges a much-deserved Oscar. It also pushed Cooper toward the director A-list.
Cooper's flick suffers from second movie excess. Christian Bale leads an all-star cast tossed into this complicated, not-so-taut thriller about two brothers, a psychopathic crime boss and vigilante justice.
There are so many plot lines going on that you may want to take a pen and paper along for notes. Bale is Russell Baze. He's a solid, hard-working guy, loyal to his family, friends and girlfriend. The very likable Baze lives and works in a dying Pennsylvania steel mill town where he takes good care of his n'er-do-well brother Rodney whose gambling addiction gets him into trouble with Willem Dafoe's local mobster.
Even good guys make mistakes. An accident after a few drinks kills a mom and her kid and gets Baze tossed in prison. The loss of freedom costs Baze the love of his life. Meanwhile, Rodney -- played nicely by Casey Affleck -- goes to Iraq and comes back with severe PTSD. Without Bale's older brother to bail him out, an angry, lost and deeply in debt Rodney starts back-alley fighting. When he's supposed to take a dive to satisfy his debts, the not-so-bright Rodney doesn't.
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After the plot meanders all over the place for 90 minutes or so, Cooper's movie eventually gets to the point. The local mobster connects Rodney with Woody Harrelson's psycho backwoods crime boss. A fight in his territory is supposed to wipe out all of his debts. Instead, it leads to Rodney's disappearance and Russell's quest for justice.
There are two bright spots in Out of the Furnace. The first is the acting. Bale, Affleck, Dafoe and Harrelson are joined by Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker and an underused Sam Shepard. They're all very good and work overtime to define and make sense out of their two-dimensional characters and Cooper's aimless plot.
The second positive is Harrelson's villainy. Known mostly for comedy work, Harrelson is a multi-faceted actor with excellent dramatic skills. He, like Bale and the others, is completely wasted.
It's a nice second try, but Cooper's movie ends up jumping Out of the Furnace and missing the fire.
Director: Scott Cooper
Stars: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard
Mr. Movie rating: 2 stars
Rated R for violence, language, mature themes. It's playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.