Out of the Furnace tackles tough topics

Christian Bale (left) and Casey Affleck in Out of the Furnace, set in Braddock, a steel mill town just east of Pittsburgh.

Is there a better setting for a bleak, gritty flick than Western Pennsylvania? Set in Braddock, a steel mill town just east of Pittsburgh where 35 percent of the population is under the poverty line, the setting is one of the few things that Out of the Furnace gets right.

The pacing was a big problem. Out of the Furnace took a while to get going and left a litany of unanswered questions along the way.

Director Scott Cooper’s last flick was the well-regarded Crazy Heart, which won an Oscar for Jeff Bridges. While the performances from stars Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are committed and believably authentic, I don’t predict any awards in the future for Out of the Furnace.

The main character is Russell Baze (Bale), who works at that steel mill and takes care of his ailing father. He’s got a relatively happy home life with his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana), and they hope to start a family soon. Russell’s little brother Rodney (Affleck) took a different path hoping to escape the steel mill life and enlisted in the Army. After several tours in Iraq, when Rodney returns back home he gets into some gambling debt and pursues bare-knuckle fighting as a way to pay off his debts.

Meanwhile, Russell has been sentenced to prison for an unfortunate incident and isn’t there to help guide his little bro. Russell’s girlfriend also leaves him for the more stable Braddock police chief (Forest Whitaker).

Thinking it will help pay off his debts once and for all, Rodney gets mixed up with the evil fight promoter/meth dealer Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) from the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey and subsequently disappears. Russell, now released from prison, refuses to let the authorities handle his brother’s disappearance and seeks his own answers and revenge.

I found the disappearance of Rodney the most interesting part of the movie, but unfortunately that didn’t happen until about three-fourths of the way through. Up until that point, it was all very slow moving for me.

If you’re looking for something different from the more family-friendly movies like Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Out of the Furnace certainly fits the bill. The bare-knuckle fighting scenes were a bit much for me, as was the violence undertaken by Harlan DeGroat. Even the movie’s opening scene establishes Harlan as a bad guy not to be messed with when he’s on a date with a lady at the drive-in movie theater. Woody Harrelson is an excellent villain, as he has been in many movies prior to this one.

Out of the Furnace tackles some tough topics during its two-hour runtime. Happy, holiday movie this is not. Now, not every movie needs a Hollywood ending, and I don’t mind a gritty movie every now and then, but ultimately Out of the Furnace didn’t leave me wanting to see more. ••

Movie Grade: C+