Woody Harrelson, left, and Christian Bale in a scene from "Out of the Furnace."
Woody Harrelson, left, and Christian Bale in a scene from "Out of the Furnace."

Christian Bale is a man of many characters.

Bruce Wayne. Dicky Eklund. Patrick Bateman. Trevor Reznik. Bale's filmography represents an actor with the range the size of the Rust Belt, though he's not given much to work with in Out of the Furnace, Scott Cooper's new potboiler that revels for two hours in its own boring everyman-ness.

His character Russell Baze is a decent man. He works long, uncontroversial days at a steel plant, keeping his soul clean in the midst of widespread cultural rot. Russell's brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) has been stop-lossed back to the Middle East more times than he can count, so he spends most of his sad post-war life brawling in fight clubs overseen by John Petty (Willem Dafoe, playing the kindest criminal in film history).

Casey Affleck in ’Out of the Furnace’
Casey Affleck in 'Out of the Furnace'

An unexpected tragedy strikes, jump-starting a chain of events that leads to Rodney getting in over his head with the wrong crowd and Russell having to come after the enemies himself. Woo!

The bad guy, a backwoods hick named Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), is nothing if not interesting. In the opening scene, he drunkenly shoves a hot dog down his date's throat at a drive-in movie and beats on her and another patron, all in a long take that serves as the film's only inspired piece of cinematography.

Harrelson's drawling, possibly inbred bare-knuckle brawler is certainly menacing, and Harrelson proves he can succeed in a role that doesn't require punchlines. When he growls, "I got a problem with everybody," it's never really even hinted at why -- he just does, and you keep wishing his character had a little more meth-addled depth.

But at least he has personality, which is more than the overly-opaque Russell can say about himself and more than Cooper can say about his own film.

It feels like a B-movie dragged down by its arty pretentiousness, sort of the opposite of this year's rote yet dynamic Prisoners. Everything feels contrived, from Russell's remarkably easy search for DeGroat (this guy is supposedly huddled up somewhere in Appalachia -- and Russell stumbles upon his house by chance in five minutes) to the fact that the only woman in town (Zoe Saldana) chooses to date Forest Whitaker.

And Russell and DeGroat's inevitable showdown disappoints like you wouldn't believe. But that's OK -- at that point, you'll just be happy to be out of Out of the Furnace.

Grade: C-

Rated R for strong violence, language and drug content.

Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter and Tout @sweetestpete.