Director Scott Cooper gives us essentially zero backstory for main character Russell (Christian Bale). A gritty mill worker in Braddock, PA, he ends up in prison after a car accident. His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is a scrappy Iraq war veteran struggling to find work. With a penchant for fist fighting, Rodney enters fights under a bookie (Willem Defoe) to make some cash and pay his debts.
Rodney learns there’s an opportunity up in the mountains of northern New Jersey, where the mountain’s inhabitants live by their own set of rules: no police interference, no laws, no regard for humanity. It’s a secluded community. This group is based off a real-life Native American tribe that live in the Ramapo Mountains area of New Jersey. Read up on them if you get a chance – their story is quite interesting, but one terribly misrepresented in the film.
Enter the group’s ruthless druggie warlord, Harlan (Woody Harrelson). He’s disgusting and scary and everything you’d fear from the leader of a cultish enterprise. Harrelson lends himself to the role quite well; I physically cringed at some of his more gruesome scenes.
In a series of events that shift the film’s focus, Rodney goes missing up in the mountains. Russell, now freed from jail, sets off on a path of vigilante justice to find out what happened.
Out of the Furnace is visually pleasing, and the billed cast is stellar – Forest Whitaker and Zoe Saldana also star. While there is skilled acting onscreen, the script can’t keep up. Trying to sum up the plot is futile: There is none. Don’t be fooled: we’re given numerous shots of Bale looking down and dreary, but the fact that I didn’t walk out of the theater in immediate disgust is a testament to his (and the rest of the cast’s) acting abilities. Only after I got home did I realize how much the film was truly lacking.
It’s a shame – with a little more character development, this film could’ve turned out much better, and it’s not like they didn’t have the space. Total runtime? An hour and 45 minutes.
It’s stocked with gratuitous violence and some clichéd plot lines. The cast did the best they could with a shoddy script, but it didn’t pull all the way through.