The only enjoyable part of Out of the Furnace was untangling its plot loopholes on the car ride home.
An ex-con (Christian Bale) with the word “fishy” tattooed across his forehead takes a road trip to Appalachia in search of a brother (Casey Affleck) who’s gone missing. Unbeknownst to our avenging adventurer, the first door he knocks on is not only the correct and suitably deglamorized Hollywood meth den — who needs GPS when there’s a grievously manipulative screenplay to chart the course? — but his kinfolk’s assailant (Woody Harrelson) is conveniently placed in the waiting room and firing up a glass pipe.
The otherwise preoccupied snoop, eager to get the information needed and split the scene, not only refuses to sample the goods in front of the salesclerk, he forgetfully leaves the mini Ziploc containing the crystal at point of purchase.
More red flags than a mile of mailboxes, you say? Not only is Bale allowed to bail, the vendor is cool enough to stop his overly suspicious customer at the door and return the forsaken bag of rock. That’s pretty fine customer service, but aren’t we forgetting the free gram for first-time patients?
We begin on the eve of the Obama election, and even Affleck’s best friends can’t help but notice that he’d be better off unleashing his anger in Iraq than on the streets of their small Pennsylvania town. Bale stays home to fight another war, this one in the county jail, where he’s briefly imprisoned for killing two people. Though he was drunk at the wheel, the collision was technically the victim’s fault.
While in prison, gal pal Zoe Saldana ditches Bale for local cop Forest Whitaker. This allows the film to add two more high-profile names to the poster. Beyond that, each actor is assigned one impressive show of range before being relegated to the bench.
Affleck goes at his returning vet character with characteristic mealy-eyed rage. Add another dash of social commentary concerning the government’s abandoning of America’s returning vets, and it’s off to a career in bare-knuckle boxing for our wounded warrior.
It’s about the time that Scott Cooper (director and co-writer with Brad Ingelsby) chose to juxtapose the shooting and gutting of a deer with Affleck preparing for a fight that I began regretting my decision not to pay the $3 surcharge for protective headgear. Add to this the most ludicrous use of cellphone technology as plot motivator to date, and before it’s over, you’ll want to stick your head in an oven.
Cooper’s long-anticipated followup to Crazy Heart wasn’t worth the wait. What so well suited his temperament in air-conditioned bars and bowling alleys fails to translate to a gray valley of belching concrete smokestacks. And with a cast of this magnitude, he deemed it best to keep the camera in as close as possible so as not to miss so much as a gesture of their brilliance.
The only thing that separates this high-ticket exploitation yarn from another Christmas contender is the number of Oscar-winners and hopefuls whose names flash onscreen during the trailer. Skip this logic-barren load and keep the Homefront box office burning.