I’m “biast” (con): the trailer looked like the film was treading well-worn ground
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
First scene: Woody Harrelson rape-ily shoves a hot dog down a woman’s throat, and then beats up a guy who points out that, hey, buddy, not cool. Woody (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) is the villain, so this is “okay,” but that’s the sort of movie you’re in for here. The pungent reek of testosterone off screen is deafening. Oh, is that a mixed metaphor? Kinda like the title of the film: out of the furnace… and, what? into the frying pan?
Writer (with Brad Ingelsby) and director Scott Cooper follows up his first film, Crazy Heart, with a similarly familiar tale of manly dysfunction, one he is desperate to inject with a sense of Significance. Upshot: this ends up little more than a high-toned apologetic for vigilantism and revenge. Cuz the movies haven’t seen enough of those.
Christian Bale’s (American Hustle) Russell Baze is “the good brother” to younger Rodney (Casey Affleck: ParaNorman), constantly saving his ass when Rodney owes too much money to the wrong people, etc. But even though this is Russell’s story — there’s some no-good-deed tragedy that befalls him, for instance, because he can’t help himself looking after Rodney, who is majorly fucked up after too many tours in Iraq — there is precious little drama in it. The plot treads water for fully half of its two-hour runtime before the actual story kicks off; even that tragedy is presented and dismissed with a stunning lack of drama. A protagonist standing around a rundown mill town waiting for something to happen to his brother — Rodney gets mixed up with illegal bare-knuckle fighting, so that was bound to happen; also: testosterone! — so he can finally do something does not a satisfying story make.
The whole shebang is all to support, I suspect, the visual metaphor Cooper makes love to, intercutting Russell on a hunting outing and the buck in the woods he just can’t shoot (but which ends up dead anyway) with Rodney getting into big trouble with the gangsters he has pissed off. It never really makes any sense — is Rodney helpless prey? should Russell have shot his brother in the head to save him from the bad guys? — but it sure does feel Significant.
Still, with a cast like this — it also includes Sam Shepard (Safe House), Willem Dafoe (Odd Thomas), and Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) (plus poor Zoe Saldana [Star Trek Into Darkness] in the thankless token-woman role) — there is plenty to satisfy your jones for performance porn. But that’s the most enjoyment that can be wrung out of this overly earnest and underly planned flick.