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Originally published Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 3:04 PM

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‘Out of the Furnace’: Siblings on a downward spiral

A three-star review of “Out of the Furnace,” a tale of two brothers in a hard-luck town, starring Christian Bale and Casey Affleck.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Out of the Furnace,’ with Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Zoë Saldana, Forest Whitaker. Directed by Scott Cooper, from a screenplay by Brad Ingelsby and Cooper. 116 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, language and drug content. Several theaters.

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Filmmaker Scott Cooper came out of nowhere in 2009 with his writing/directing feature debut, “Crazy Heart” — a wonderfully spiky yet sweet tale of an aging country singer that won an Oscar for Jeff Bridges and made a lot of us curious what Cooper might do next. Four years later, here’s the answer: “Out of the Furnace,” a moody small-town drama about a pair of working-class brothers. Like “Crazy Heart,” it’s beautifully and honestly acted; unlike “Crazy Heart,” it feels a little stately and predictable. You know where it’s going, but the actors make the trip worth taking.

Christian Bale plays Russell, a lifelong resident of a depressed Pennsylvania Rust Belt town. Quiet and inarticulate, he works hard at the steel mill, is an attentive son to his ailing father, and logs extra hours to help pay debts incurred by his younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), an Iraq vet caught in a cycle of illegal boxing and gambling. Frustrated by Russell’s attempts to get him to be more responsible, Rodney becomes entangled with the frighteningly deranged Harlan (Woody Harrelson), and it’s clear none of this will end well.

Harrelson, who plays villainous characters with a wickedly clenched ease, and Affleck do fine work, but it’s especially nice to see Bale, now free of Batman’s cape, reminding us how good he can be. One scene, as Russell’s ex-girlfriend (Zoë Saldana) tells him that she’s pregnant with another man’s child, is quietly devastating — Russell, still carrying a torch for her, visibly swallows his hopes while choking out a heartbroken but sincere “I’m so happy for you.” Russell doesn’t talk about how he feels about things, he just deals with them, and we know without his ever telling us that he loves his brother more than anything in the world. Late in the movie, home movies of young Russell and Rodney play in the older brother’s head; a colorful, happy dream, from which you wish he never had to wake up.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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