Review: Fury (2014)

Fury

Rating

Director
David Ayer
Screenplay
David Ayer
Length
134 min.
Starring
Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Jim Parrack, Brad William Henke, Kevin Vance, Xavier Samuel, Jason Isaacs, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg
MPAA Rating
R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout

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Review
A beleaguered cadre of tank operators roll across the muddy earth of Germany in the final months of World War II. Fury takes us inside the cramped interior of a Sherman tank whose sole purpose is to reach and fortify a crucial crossroads in central Germany to the path for Allied troops to march further towards Berlin.

Brad Pitt leads the haggard quartet of soldiers inside the tank dubbed Fury as Sgt. Don Collier, a frustrated commander accustomed to a tight knit camaraderie that is threatened by a green typist thrust onto the battle lines after the death of the team’s co-pilot. Struggling to adjust to the new assignment, Pvt. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) learns quickly and harshly the truth about the blood, death and destruction brought about by war.

Lerman’s performance towers above his tankmates, conveying the anger, fear and soul-wrenching heartbreak of a naïve young man forced to kill or be killed. Pitt may be the lead of the film, but he supports Lerman with the strength and gravitas that his years in Hollywood and his character’s vast experience can provide. Rattling around inside the tank are a bizarre mix of individual personalities including Cpl. Trini Garcia (Michael Pena), their understanding but volatile pilot; Pfc. Grady Travias (Jon Bernthal), their crass, vulgar mechanic; and T/5 Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf), their hyper-religious gunner. With such a bold, confrontational mix, we further sympathize with Norman and his sheer disbelief at the predicament he now must survive.

Like the well-oiled, but crumbling machine in which they find themselves, this team of soldiers tries to put aside their differences in the face of great adversity. Their fates being decided by their audacity, dedication and skill put against the sheer volume and cunning of their enemy.

After five feature films as a writer, David Ayer took his ideas behind the camera and has quickly amassed an appreciation for his visceral explorations of human behavior in films like End of Watch and Street Kings. Fury continues that tradition with a gritty, pessimistic view of war. He looks to its soldiers as principled, but highly flawed men trapped in a conflict they did not start, but determined to bring it to a swift end. They are blunted by the years of bleak outcomes and slow, deadly advances. Throw in a fresh face in a depressive dynamic and you have a recipe for animosity, recrimination and disrespect that only the tests of battle can unify.

Ayer’s screenplay digs into the logistics of warfare, the cunning of the enemy and the depravity of all that goes on around these courageous, highly flawed, sometimes detestable American soldiers. His exploration of war as an unfortunate means to a gruesome, but victorious end highlight everything that’s write with storytelling from a realist’s perspective.

All Quiet on the Western Front was the first anti-war film ever to win an Academy Award. Winning Best Picture at the 3rd Annual Academy Awards along with the award for Best Director (Lewis Milestone) and nominations for writing and cinematography, a Oscar tradition blossomed wherein they gave equal consideration to traditional war movies and those that looked at war from the dark, vicious side, exposing the depravity and destruction that war can bring. While the United States slid into heavy propaganda during and after World War II, films that cast a critical eye on war and its repercussions have often surpassed their populist cousins in terms of impact and quality.

Fury won’t send your common American patriot into apoplectic fits of inspiration, but it won’t discourage their nodding agreement at the brutal honesty on the front lines. This film isn’t designed to conjure indelible images of American superiority on the battlefield, but it does showcase the human desire to thrive in the face of adversity and come out on the other side of a bloody conflict wiser, but not necessarily unscarred by its events.

Spoiler Discussion
One scene in the middle third of the film finds Pitt’s company successfully entrenched in a small German town where rambunctious soldiers careen through the city streets taking what they want, having sex, drinking booze and having a generally exciting time. It isn’t until this moment where Pitt’s gruff, beleaguered personality gives way to the simplicity and elegance he might have indulged in before being thrust into the war.

Pitt takes Lerman up into a small apartment building wherein two beautiful young women hide out from the threatening forces that have invaded their community. Through compassion, persistence and charm, Pitt convinces the two women to open themselves up to the pair and show them that not all American soldiers are crude and unrefined. It’s here the film gives Lerman and Pitt a connection. Up to this point, we had not seen Pitt as more than a war-weary soldier. Lerman gets a different view of his character not only solidifying his faith in his commander, but establishing for the audience a kinship between the two characters suggesting that Pitt may have been more like Lerman when the war began than he was like the man he’s now become.

This one scene encapsulates the entire film’s view of war turning common, ordinary men into haggard, determined killers and liberators. The scene plays for a surprising length, introducing other elements as it goes along, further defining these themes. While this wouldn’t have been a good end point for the film, a film without this segment would have been far weaker.

A common trapping of war films seems to be the slow burnout of the characters in the film. Death is an integral part of combat, so it’s not surprising that it plays a very heavy hand in a film like this. Like many predecessors, many of the key players find their ends by the final chapter of the film. Two whole tanks of soldiers die before the team even gets to their final destination where a carefully planted mine destroys the treads on our heroes’ tank, stranding them as a column of SS soldiers bare down on them, forcing a fascinating, tactically diverse final confrontation with Pitt and company making their final stand.

As these last scenes play out, the members of the tank crew are snuffed out one by one to no one’s surprise. The key victory here over other efforts is the decision to kill off the main character leaving the fresh-faced cog to emerge frightened, battered, but victorious. Will he be forever changed by these events, most certainly. Will he continue fighting until the very end of the war, perhaps. We don’t know.

To an extent, these scenes shift our view that Pitt’s character is the chief protagonist and that this is his story; however, everything that came before pieces together until we realize that it’s Lerman’s whose volatile memoir we have just witnessed. That twist isn’t new, but it’s effectively executed and cements the idea that Lerman is the most valuable player, both thematically and performance-wise.

Oscar Prospects
Probables: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Potentials: Picture, Director, Actor (Brad Pitt), Supporting Actor (Logan Lerman), Original Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Makeup & Hairstyling
Unlikelies: Visual Effects

Review Written

November 17, 2014

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