BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
OCTOBER 18, 2014
“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent”— Wardaddy (Brad Pitt)
With a thundering blow, “Fury” joins the ranks of classics like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Apocalypse Now” as one of the best cinematic representations of war ever produced. However, whereas Spielberg and Coppola drove those films to be not just great war films but two of the best films of all time, David Ayer’s “Fury” does not quite reach those heights.
Every inch of “Fury” is dour. From the dark landscape, it paints of World War II, to the ragtag cast of characters who trudge through the mud, to every dismal story told or every cynical line sputtered, Ayer draws a huge black cloud over his period piece. But out of that relentlessness is the sense that this is how war films should be. History books can only depict so much about the topic of war without fear-mongering, so having a director willing to get his hands dirty and deliver an adult war film that is not bothered with sugar coating is as close to a first-person look at our history as one can ever experience without actually having lived through it. What creates this authenticity is the impeccable production design. With era-appropriate tanks, dirt-covered garb covering the soldiers, and a desaturated cinematography that provides a drab brilliance, there is a sense of turmoil and despair instilled into every frame of the film.
Brad Pitt plays Wardaddy, the Staff Sergeant in charge of navigating his sordid lot of soldiers through the German battlefields inside an American tank with the word “FURY” painted on the side of the cannon. Not a huge leap from his persona in “Inglourious Basterds”, Pitt fits these boots perfectly, projecting enough charisma for the audience to believe that men would follow him and enough sincerity to accept that occasionally he falters emotionally. He may have taken a dip in general popularity with his off-screen antics, but Shia LaBeouf is surprisingly a revelation as Boyd Swan, the cold staring, Bible reciting, cannon man who believes that everyone can be saved. Equally stoic alongside him are the tank’s mechanic, Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal) and the tank’s driver, Trini “Gordo” Garcia”. All four men have survived years of fighting together in the war, with plenty of gruesome stories to tell.
Having lost the fifth member of their company before the start of the film, they are met with a newcomer, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) who went from training for a desk job to being recruited by the Army. Having never seen the inside of a tank, Norman best represents the audience, as he is shoved into this foreign land, in every sense of the word. Much of the conflict comes from Norman trying to fit into the “take no prisoners” company, learning to take lives for the very first time all while Wardaddy looks on disapprovingly, forcing him into difficult situations and blaming him when things go wrong. As cold and demanding as he can be, however, there are layers to Wardaddy that are peeled away through his interactions with Norman. His character is defined immensely when he sneaks off with Norman to a flat where they have two cute German women cook them eggs, attempting to gain a small semblance of civility before the animalistic trio that is the rest of their company descends on the meal, hurt that they were not invited.
Adding to the intensity of “Fury” is its unabashed violence. Heads are blown off on camera, men are stabbed in the face, tanks run over bodies that are mere jelly, having been run over so many times already. With its bleak outlook, this film is bound to turn some people off. Others, however, will appreciate the lack of restraint. “Fury” is an epic and, in being so, it is willing to get dark. Just like in actual war, gunfights are life or death and no one is safe. As epic as the film is, with its thrilling tank battles and shocking twists, the scope of the story and distance traveled are rather confined, offering just a mere glimpse and nothing more. But with a complete immersion into this world, with planes flying overhead, smoke billowing in the background, and the constant muffled sound of explosions coming from all directions, “Fury” paints a vivid picture of the stunning reality of war. Combined with career-defining performances and another gritty home run for director David Ayer (“End Of Watch”), “Fury” reminds us what perfect war films should be while just falling short of becoming a classic in its own right.
October 17, 2014
(for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout)