Is anyone a better movie actor right now than Christian Bale? (Okay, I’ll give you Daniel Day-Lewis… but it’s close and getting closer.) The 39-year-old Welshman is fully in his prime, demonstrated most recently by two powerful performances landing in the heart of Oscar season. The flashier role might be in David O. Russell’s American Hustle, which doesn’t open until Dec. 20. In Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, which opened Wednesday and expanded Friday, he plays the good-intentioned ex-con whose pursuit of justice — after his ne’er-do-well brother (Casey Affleck) goes missing — puts him on a collision course with a terrifying meth-king hick (Woody Harrelson).

Set around the decaying stacks of Pennsylvania steel mills around the eve of Obama’s 2008 election, Furnace never flinches from its dreary first impression, using Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard to positive effect as the types of craggled faces who survive this iron underworld. There’s not a lot of hope or change for these characters. As EW’s Chris Nashawaty writes, “Like 1978’s The Deer Hunter, Cooper’s devastating death trip nails the bond between two no-hope men pushed to violent extremes.”

Bale has always been drawn to characters with violent impulses — from Batman to Patrick Bateman to boxer Dicky Eklund in The Fighter. Playing a superhero never seemed to limit his range, but now that he’s free of the cowl for good, it will be fascinating to watch the next phase of his career. The critics seem to think he’s off to a great start.

Before you head to the theater, click below to see what the leading critics are saying about Out of the Furnace.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly) ▲

“All of the actors (including Zoë Saldana as Bale’s ex) are remarkable. But it’s Bale, and his almost biblical quest for justice, who burns his way into your soul.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) ▲

“Without any attention-grabbing histrionics, Christian Bale plays every moment of that scene so perfectly, you feel as if you’re eavesdropping on real life. One hesitates to dive into the reference bag to say “a young Brando” when lauding a performance, but Bale is that good here. That GREAT here.”

Liam Lacey (Toronto Globe and Mail)

“Like the other characters here, Harrelson looks a little too gym-fit and handsome for his hardscrabble, dissolute life. His performance underscores how much the film relies on acting with a capital A, the kind of showy performances that weaken the sense of authenticity.”

Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter)

“DeGroat serves a function very close to the Kurtz character in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now as an embodiment of pure and irredeemable evil, the king of a jungle so far off any normal moral or geographic map that everyday law enforcement won’t even venture there.”

Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times)

Out of the Furnace is not an easy film, almost as rough on the psyche as the fights Rodney gets into. It’s as unrelenting as the tough times it portrays.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) ▼

“For Affleck, Out of the Furnace is another in his whiny-weird-Americana series, and he’s an interesting actor, capable of imparting loads of unspoken meaning into a line such as “It was bad.” But he’s undermined by the script.”

David Edelstein (New York) ▼

“After a long time staring at his face in various mirrors, Bale picks up a shotgun to do what Liam Neeson would have done ten times as well in a tenth of the time and without the fancy lighting. We’re supposed to take this more seriously because it takes itself more seriously.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

Out of the Furnace could have been a starkly powerful human drama or a cheesy, vibrant action film. It splits the difference and ends up playing like a lesser Springsteen song.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times)

“[Cooper] borrows plenty from other movies, but unlike the postmodern pasticheur who gets off on his own clever allusions, he steals without irony or self-protecting quotation marks. As a consequence, much as he did with his directorial debut, Crazy Heart, he brings an old-fashioned conviction to the material.”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)

“Cooper, who directed Crazy Heart a few years ago, once again evinces a gift for conveying atmosphere, carefully framing and composing his shots to lend Out of the Furnace a reserved, even stately, air of dignity.”

Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)

“The dingy fight clubs, drab industrial backdrops and bursts of shocking violence won’t be relatable to the average viewer. You’re always conscious you’re watching a carefully constructed movie, not real life (at least not your life). But Cooper … makes you look past the strangeness of his scenario and focus on the humanity within.”

Out of the Furnace

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 65

Rotten Tomatoes: 53 percent

Rated: R

Length: 106 Minutes

Starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoë Saldana, Forest Whitaker

Directed by Scott Cooper

Distributor: Relativity Media

Out of the Furnace
  • Movie
  • 116 minutes