Much of Scott Cooper’s revenge drama is based heavily around themes that set our characters down a path where they’re doomed from the moment we meet them. Harlan DeGroat, played Woody Harrelson who is terrifying in the role, is a man that stains everyone that he runs in to. And he becomes especially a stain on the pair of brothers, both of whom struggle to find some way out of their pitiful go nowhere lives. Everything in “Out of the Furnace”: leads right in to DeGroat, who isn’t just a villainous scum, but also revels in being a violent monster.
He takes great pleasure in the pain of others, and his confrontation with Russell and Rodney Baze change their lives forever. DeGroat is that bile presence preying on others, and the brothers played Bale and Affleck become his ultimate undoing. Russell and Rodney are perpetual victims of their own lower class trappings, forced to watch their dad die from the pollution he endured working at the local mill, only for the pair of sons to have to follow up by working there just to make ends meet. Incapable of facing a life in the job, Rodney, played by Casey Affleck, enters in to the military hoping to find a better life that could pave a path apart from his father’s.
Russell is dealt a hard blow after drunkenly crashing in to a car driven by DeGroat that lands him in jail for five years. After finally coming out barely in tact, Russell’s savoring of freedom quickly diminishes when he learns that everything he left behind moved on without him. The love of his life met another man and has gotten over him, while Rodney has returned from the military damaged and no more well off financially than he was before. Even worse, he’s entered in to illegal fights, and finds himself anxious to challenge DeGroat, who is a vicious brawler in the ring. Director Cooper doesn’t set out to lighten the moods of audiences, so Cooper’s world is draped in shadows and grit that paint the relatively low class trappings of these individuals.
The lives of the two brothers are carved out for them, whether they like it or not, and the older they become the more difficult it becomes to escape. Especially in the case of Rodney, who finds his illegal brawls a form of catharses for the unspeakable horrors he saw in war. It’s another promise for a better life that he found offered nothing but heartache and pain once again. The performances from Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are fantastic, especially Affleck, whose portrayal of a damaged and wounded soldier is heartbreaking. He’s given up looking for a better life, and now seeks to end it as quickly as possible.
Bale as Russell adapts to the confines of his character wonderfully, and struggling to adjust to a life that has no place for him. When Rodney disappears after meeting with the awful DeGroat, he looks for the reason for his disappearance and delvers deeper in to darkness for vengeance. Woody Harrelson completely owns every scene he inhabits, portraying an amoral criminal whose own sense of apathy fuels his sadism. “Out of the Furnace” is a great and bleak look at the often limited paths to redemption for individuals in the lower class, and how the silver lining is almost always out of reach for most of us.