In Out of the Furnace the object in the title refers literally to the furnace one might find in a steel mill and, metaphorically, the the heat generated by conflicts between humans that can explode into a blazing conflagration.
Russell Baze (Christian Bale) lives in Braddock, PA, and works in a dead end steel mill job, cares for his dying father and loves his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) very much.
His brother Rodney Baze, Jr. (Casey Affleck) comes out of the army and doesn’t exactly know what he wants to do. What he is sure of is that he does not want to work in the mill. So, Rodney becomes a fighter in bouts arranged by John Petty (Willem Dafoe). He ultimately goes to New Jersey for a fight arranged by one Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). For recreation, Russell goes deer hunting with his uncle Red (Sam Sherpard). Then, after a fight in New Jersey, Rodney disappears. The local cops — represented by Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker) — don’t do much to find him
Scott Cooper, director and co-writer (who also directed Jeff Bridges to an Oscar in Crazy Heart) handles the material well. The excessive violence could be shown as being worse than it is here and, clearly, Cooper has affection for his characters but they are difficult people living in a difficult time (2008) and place. Survival is a constant battle.
Out of the Furnace is packed with a-list actors doing their utmost, but the story often leaves them in the lurch. One cannot help wishing the script were better so they could perform up to their potential.
This is a movie that should have had much, much better script. But watching the cast of pros is fun.