So is Forest Whitaker doing Christian Bale's Batman voice back at him? And whose idea was the Buford T. Justice pencil-thin? Whitaker, playing a small-town lawman, isn't onscreen much in Out of the Furnace, a slow, predictable drip of biblical portent, Pennsylvania-mill-country grit and generic revenge tropes in search of narrative momentum. He growls nobly, stands by while Zoe Saldana says of him to Bale, "He's a good man," and shows up in time to see off bad guy Woody Harrelson. But writer-director Scott Cooper's follow-up to Crazy Heart is the sort of self-consciously melodramatic acting derby that encourages your mind to wander as you question every casting choice (Casey Affleck as Bale's brother?), filmmaking decision (oh, look — majestic smokestacks) and performance tic (how the hell is Harrelson going to return Ed Harris' eyeballs?).
Like this year's hammier The Place Beyond the Pines, Furnace strives for blue-collar poetry and Shakespearean sweep but hands you an incomplete shopping list. Check off the usual ingredients, then: dead parents, stop-loss agonies, underground bare-knuckle fighting, murder, drugs, deer hunting. Bale and Affleck leaven each other's intensity adequately, but they're stranded in a cliché loop. The angry veteran needs one last payday before settling into working-class life. The stoic good brother pays a high price for trying to do the right thing. A happy vegan plays a super-cranked-out satanic crime boss. In other words: the usual. With Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard as themselves.