“Out of the Furnace”

Relativity Media

Directed by Scott Cooper

Starring Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana and Willem Dafoe

Rated R

2 ½ Stars

With an impressive roster of talented actors, a deeper-than-expected screenplay and some notable production elements, the new movie “Out of the Furnace” makes a good attempt at mixing highbrow art with lowbrow action. Ultimately the film falls a little short of that mark, but it certainly deserves credit for trying to be something greater than just another action flick.

Christian Bale stars as Russell, a hard-working man struggling to survive modern life in the rural Northeast. After a stint in prison, he finds himself working a dead-end job so that he can care for his terminally ill father and look after his troubled brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck) who is a soldier just back from Afghanistan.

Rodney is trying to pay off his debts by bare-knuckle brawling. It’s a bleak existence, which turns tragic when he runs afoul of a backwoods criminal kingpin named Harlan (Woody Harrelson). Blood is spilled, which forces Russell into an all-or-nothing confrontation with Harlan.

The last hour of “Out of the Furnace” becomes a pretty predictable action flick, which is a shame because the film is set up to be something far meatier. During the film’s opening hour, I thought I might be watching a post Iraq version of “The Deep Hunter” because there are so many tantalizing scenes that deal with family honor, the death of the American Dream and the issues facing returning veterans.

These moments are so poignant because of a superb cast. Bale is terrific, as always, while Affleck and especially Harrelson are completely captivating. Harrelson has turned in one of the great villain performances of the year here, worthy of Oscar consideration.

The same holds true for the cinematography, which sucks all of the warmth out of the film’s Pennsylvania Rust Belt setting. The stark images are so powerful that they set a fatalistic tone for the film long before the plot bathes everything in blood.

The problem is that despite all the elements that make up a superb first hour, “Out of the Furnace” goes on autopilot for the finale, turning into a simple, one-note action flick. It becomes completely predictable as the interesting characters turn into black-and-white heroes and villains. There are no plot twists to hold our interest and the complex issues are discarded in favor of more stereotypical genre conventions.

That’s a pretty big letdown for a film that started with such promise.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.

Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press-Tribune. He can also be seen locally on KBOI-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com .

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Runs Friday, Dec 6

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