Filmed in North Braddock, Pennsylvania (just outside of Pittsburgh) Scott Cooper's Out of the Furnace (2013) examines a handful of characters in a town crippled by a failing economy, their own bad choices and/or quite a bit of bad luck. Our central characters are Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney Baze (Casey Affleck), two brothers who have taken decidedly different paths in life. Russell, the older of the two, lives with his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) and works at the same steel mill that will eventually take the life of his father. Rodney, currently in the middle of multiple tours in Iraq, is knee-high in gambling debt owed to John Petty (Willem Defoe); in turn, Rodney resorts to rigged bare-knuckle fighting to help settle Petty's own debts to local drug dealer and absolute monster Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).
Hard (or harder) times are right ahead. Russell is arrested for DUI-related vehicular manslaughter, while Rodney and John are confronted by Harlan for failing to make amends. Things go south and, before you know it, Rodney goes missing and Braddock police chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker) gets involved. Unable to deal with the police's slow response, the recently-freed Russell and his Uncle "Red" (Sam Shepard) attempt to seek out Harlan themselves at his well-guarded residence in New Jersey's Ramapo Mountains. It's a long trip, but things end back west in Braddock.
As the film unfolds, it becomes painfully clear that Rodney will be killed...but unlike what the trailer suggests, it doesn't play out exactly like we'd expect. Out of the Furnace
feels like the kind of revenge thriller where one of two things will happen: (1) Rodney is held by Harlan until Russell attempts a rescue, or (2) Rodney is killed, but Russell does not find out until discovering the body himself. Both to the film's credit and detriment, neither of these things happen; we're aware of Rodney's fate before our protagonist is, but not by much. From that point onward, Out of the Furnace
keeps us at arm's length but still feels more than a little predictable. The circle of violence completes itself but nothing is solved, even though the film's only representation of pure evil is no longer alive.
Aside from this nagging complaint, my only quibble with Out of the Furnace is the fact that it's overstuffed by either a few scenes or at least one supporting character. Between Russell's wayward brother, his girlfriend, his thankless but steady job, his kindly uncle and his dying father, I'm not surprised that they didn't throw in a dead wife and single fatherhood. Early scenes also set the stage in blunt, unforgiving black and white: Harlan might as well be Satan in the flesh, while Russell valiantly attempts to remain "straight and narrow" despite the unfortunate hand he's dealt. With only one exception, almost every hurdle he overcomes is inflicted by others, and simply pitting this type of character against such a monster may be why Out of the Furnace feels slightly more predictable and generic than it really ought to.
In all honesty, Scott Cooper's follow-up to Crazy Heart is anything but a sophomore slump; at worst, it feels vaguely like a handful of movies you've seen before. The performances are uniformly excellent, it looks and sounds better than its budget implies, the action hits hard and, at times, it's emotionally affecting. So while a few trims here and there---or a more delicate treatment of the "good vs. evil" dynamic---would've potentially made Out of the Furnace a more satisfying film, there's still enough here to warrant a closer look (and even more so if you're a fan of the principal cast). Fox's Blu-ray serves up an excellent A/V presentation but, unfortunately, comes up short in the extras department.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Not surprisingly, the rough and rusty Out of the Furnace translates quite well to Blu-ray, boasting a strong amount of image detail and a striking, muted color palette. Presented in the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer displays strong black levels, excellent contrast and, most importantly, no flagrant digital problems like compression artifacts or heavy DNR. Despite some of its other shortcomings, Out of the Furnace is certainly a well-shot film and this Blu-ray absolutely delivers in every possible area. Fans and new viewers alike should be pleased with Fox's efforts.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional images featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's 1080p image resolution.
Similarly, the film's DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix isn't flashy but gets the job done. The imposing industrial backdrop of Braddock and the surrounding areas lends itself to plenty of excellent surround usage, whether it's a quiet personal exchange or a sudden burst of violent action. The fight scenes---and in several cases, the fallout from these brawls---is particularly enveloping at times. The dialogue is crisp and typically easy to understand, while Dickon Hinchliffe's appropriate score (and Eddie Vedder's contribution, which bookends the film) enjoys plenty of presence without fighting for attention. Optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles are included during the film and most of the supplements.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The menu interface is clean and simple...though like most other Lionsgate releases, an ungodly amount of trailers and advertisements must be skipped individually before it loads. This one-disc package is housed in one of those annoying "eco-friendly" keepcases and includes a Digital Copy
redemption insert. The disc is locked for Region A players only.
Not too much, unfortunately, and what's here is largely promotional in nature. Four brief Featurettes
are on board (4-9 minutes apiece) that examine director Scott Cooper, the fight scenes, the film's music and the inspiration behind several of the key actors' performances. Also included is the original Theatrical Trailer
and optional SDH subtitles for the four featurettes. Again, there isn't much of interest here, but I doubt we'll see any kind of re-release in the near future.
Out of the Furnace is too well-shot and acted to be considered a throwaway revenge tale, but it rarely feels like much more than the sum of its parts. The story does manage to take a few interesting turns along the way, especially if you saw the trailer and assumed it spoiled all the surprises. There's also at least one too many characters on board, which tends to cripple the momentum at times. Fox's Blu-ray offers a terrific A/V presentation but only the bare minimum of extras, which may disappoint those looking for a deeper look behind the scenes. So while Out of the Furnace doesn't always fire on all cylinders, it's still an underrated production that should please fans of the cast. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.