Out Of The Furnace, film review: Christian Bale feels the heat on brotherly quest

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(15) Dir. Scott Cooper; Starring Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, 117mins

If he weren't such a taciturn fellow, Russell Baze (Christian Bale) would have one hell of a hard-luck story to tell. During this languorous and moody thriller's patient scene-setting, this essentially decent Pittsburgh steel-worker is sent to prison for his involvement in a drink-driving road accident, his girlfriend leaves him, his father dies, the steel plant looks set to close down, and his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) comes back from a fourth tour of Iraq a changed man.

Entering the underground world of bare-knuckle boxing, Rodney gets mixed up with a psychopathic meth dealer named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) and goes missing in a lawless region of the Appalachian mountains. It is left to Russell to follow him there.

When stripped down to its constituent parts, then, this is a genre film with a simple and well-worn plot. But as in his previous film, Crazy Heart, for which Jeff Bridges won an Oscar playing an alcoholic country and western singer, the writer-director Scott Cooper is able to rely on his actors to give life to characters and situations which might otherwise seem tired.

Bale and Affleck each bring their own brands of smouldering intensity, Harrelson gets to go over the top, and there are supporting roles for actors of the calibre of Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard. And even when the writing is unexceptional, Cooper maintains a sympathetic eye for those hardscrabble lives lived amid the peeling paint, rusting metal and faded dreams of the steel town's post-industrial decay. Even the daylight in this film is in a permanently blue mood.

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