December 6, 2013 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Stereotypes keep 'Out of the Furnace' from building heat

Christian Bale stars as a steelworker out for revenge and in love with Lena (Zoe Saldana) in 'Out of the Furnace.' (Kerry Hayes)

“Out of the Furnace” isn’t all that hot.

Yes it has a fine cast, and all do good work. But this overly obvious film about the downward spiral lives of lower-class brothers barely scraping by in life goes through mostly expected motions. It fairly signals “No good can come of this” and then follows right through on that promise.

Christian Bale plays Russell Baze, a steelworker in a worn-down Pennsylvania town in love with Lena (Zoe Saldana). Russell’s younger brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck) is in between tours of duty when we meet him and is already a mess.

Russell gets involved in a tragedy that sends him to jail just as Rodney is sent back to war. When Russell gets out, Lena has hooked up with a local cop (Forrest Whitaker, wasted) and Rodney has turned to underground fighting to release his demons and earn what he can.

Russell tries to convince Rodney to come to work at the steel mill (although it’s closing soon) but Rodney wants to travel to the backwoods of New Jersey to fight for the thoroughly sleazy Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). When Rodney never returns from the fight, Russell becomes concerned. He’s sure DeGroat is behind the disappearance and — you guessed it — decides to take the law into his own hands.

Now there’s a whole lot of testosterone in this movie — Saldana’s character has little to do — and all sorts of bloody punching about. But director Scott Cooper, who did so well with 2009’s “Crazy Heart,” co-writing with Brad Inglesby, does nothing to bring character to these characters.

Harrelson may as well hold a sign that says “Low-life Bad Guy,” Affleck’s could read “Messed-Up G.I.” and Bale’s might say “Tragic Hero.” These actors, and the audience, deserve more.

'Out of the Furnace'

GRADE: C-

Rated R for strong violence, language and drug content

Running time: 116 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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