From the opening scene in which psychopathic Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) abuses his distraught date at a drive-in movie, you're just

waiting for someone to kill


Set in 2008 in blue-collar Braddock, Pa., the story revolves around hard-working Russell Baze (Christian Bale), a welder at the local steel mill, who has a girlfriend, Lena (Zoe Saldana), and dutifully visits his terminally ill father whenever he can. Russell is concerned about his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), who has just returned from four tours of duty with the Army in Iraq and is obviously suffering from undiagnosed PTSD.

When drunk driving in a fatal automobile accident sends Russell to prison for manslaughter, Lena strays and Rodney turns to bare-knuckle boxing, falling under the influence of the local bookie, John Petty (Willem Dafoe), which leads him into notoriously volatile Harlan DeGroat's hillbilly crime ring in New Jersey's Ramapo Mountains.

Despite realistic performances from an impressive, A-list cast that also includes Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard, the violent, hard-boiled drama is slow-paced and meandering, while the archetypal characters are sketchily drawn.

So when calm, rational Russell suddenly turns vigilante, it feels false. In addition, since the complex concept raises timely themes about economic inequity and veterans' issues without saying anything of substance about them, it all seems a bit pretentious.

Originally scripted by Brad Ingelsby and co-written by director Scott Cooper ("Crazy Heart"), it's aesthetically ambitious with a hollow homage to Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter" (1978), also set in rural Pennsylvania, in a scene in which Bale is hunting in the forest and unable to shoot, mirroring Robert DeNiro's reaction to taking the life of a living creature. This sequence is juxtaposed with another that exploits human brutality. But adroit editing seems wasted here, along with Masanobu Takayanagi's stark cinematography and Dickon Hinchliffe's evocative score.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Out of the Furnace" is a dark, tedious, dour 4, a melancholy, depressing dirge centered on the contemporary decay and decline of the American Dream.

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