Out of the Furnace (15)
There is a brutal blue-collar vibe to writer/director Scott Cooper’s follow-up to his earlier Crazy Heart. And populating this nasty tale of small-town low-lifes is a stellar cast of indie regulars and A-listers in a production headed up by Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Casey Affleck and Christian Bale are the siblings bonded by blood and a sense of brotherly loyalty. A spell in prison for one changes both their lives and propels each towards a confrontation with a murderous drug dealer.
The killer is played by Woody Harrelson and there are guest spots for the likes of Willem Dafoe, Sam Shepard, Forest Whitaker and Zoe Saldana.
But the central triumvirate of Bale, Affleck and Harrelson is what drives this story of love, loss and vengeance.
Cooper builds a cloying and ever escalating sense of inevitability about Affleck’s descent into a desperate struggle for cash to pay off a debt, and his blind run into illegal bare-knuckle fighting.
Into that grimy and dog-eat-dog milieu he builds elements of The Streetfighter (Charles Bronson as a below-the-radar scrapper) and even The Deer Hunter as these have-nots from the wrong side of the tracks seek a way out of their personal purgatory.
For once Bale is reactive, not proactive, always responding to the crises affecting his brother. And Affleck is taut and hyper-wound, like a watch-spring wound too tight. It’s clear from the start that he’s on a road to oblivion.
With so many taciturn, tattooed, macho types Out of the Furnace is overflowing with the testosterone of the gutter. What elevates it above its contemporaries is Harrelson’s turn as a seemingly unstoppable heavy who kills on a whim and with impunity.
The patient viewer will be rewarded. Those demanding vacuous fripperies will not.
Star rating: ****