In this Ridley Scott/Leonardo DiCaprio produced film, Christian Bale stars as steel mill worker Russell who, after serving time in prison following a vehicular collision, tries to find his missing brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), a former soldier involved in illegal bare-knuckle fights helmed by the dangerous, deadly Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).

Unfortunately, this film seems to follow the same formula as Killing Them Softly and The Counselor, films that boast an impressive cast but are let down by a dull story and a far too leisurely pace. In all fairness, Out of the Furnace doesn’t quite sink to their level, but the similarities can be found nonetheless.

There is a worthy effort at a story here; a man will stop at nothing to get his brother back even if it means tussling with some dangerous people but ultimately, it doesn’t really go anywhere and the plot is rather uninspired and dull. The characters don’t get the development that they deserve, Russell’s incarceration following a devastating road collision is superfluous to the plot and even prominently including a steel mill throughout is pointless. It is all paper thin and a lot of the film is simply padding, with Russell continually sitting around and staring into space. It also seems as though there is story potential throughout the film, such as the relationship with Zoe Saldana’s character or the economic downturn of the city, but none of this is picked up on.

The biggest shame is that there is great story potential with Affleck’s character Rodney. Home from the war, he is psychologically damaged and, angry at the world and scarred by what he’s seen, he takes to illegal fighting and associating with dangerous criminals. Now, this is where the heart of the story is. It is Affleck’s character that we care about and his motivations clearly form the most interesting part of the story. But all of this is skimmed over and his story ends relatively quickly in order to hand over the film to Bale’s character. The film would be far more fascinating if it gave more attention to Casey Affleck.

As mentioned before, this film has an impressive cast but most of them are pretty superfluous. Zoe Saldana has nothing to do as “the girlfriend”, Forest Whitaker growls his way through the whole film and putting their characters in a relationship with each other is nonsensical and looks wrong. That being said, Woody Harrelson is very tough and intimidating, though a bit two dimensional, as the antagonist and Christian Bale sure does try his hardest as the uninteresting, poorly developed protagonist. And of course, Casey Affleck is the star of the show, playing the vulnerable, damaged Rodney excellently. I wanted to see so much more of him!

A bland, paper-thin story, a testing, leisurely pace and uninteresting characters. Casey Affleck shines all too briefly in this film of missed opportunities.

★ ★

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