Fury (2014) / War-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Running Time: 134 min.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg, Jim Parrack, Brad Henke, Jason Isaacs
Director: David Ayer
Screenplay: David Ayer
Review published October 17, 2014
Brad Pitt (The Counselor, 12 Years a Slave) is Sgt. Don 'Wardaddy' Collier, the commander of a 5-man Sherman tank platoon storming through 1945 Germany for the Allied forces, during the waning days of World War II. This mission sees Norman (Lerman, Noah), a new recruit, an Army typist who has never fired a gun, get thrown deep into the theatre of battle and join Sgt. Collier's team, and have to learn the hard way that war is hell in this place where doing the always right thing will likely get you and your brothers in battle killed.
Fury is written and directed by David Ayer (Sabotage, End of Watch), who continues to explore what it's like to be in a group tied together to serve a common cause, though this time he isn't depicting an insider's look at law enforcement. Ayer's film examines the bizarre nature of war, especially in how morality becomes twisted when every day, every moment, has life and death hanging in the balance. It often turns men into monsters after a while, and the struggle to maintain some sense of humanity is ultimately the battle that is often lost when you're out on the front lines.
From there, he builds up a Wild Bunch-tinged war film about a group of morally depleted men who've been trained that doing something as wrong as killing is the right thing to do, to the point where their grip on what other wrongs are actually rights comes into question. It becomes clear that these men who've resolved that they might die at any moment go forward with the notion that every mission is a suicide mission, and they're going to do or die in the process. Rather than bemoan the horrors of war, they've chosen to embrace their lot, even starting a refrain that this is the "best job I've ever had."
Lerman does well playing the kind of naive, baby-faced lad Lerman seems to always play, but does serve as our conduit to learning how this surreal world full of lost and nearly unhinged men operates. Pitt is appropriately edgy and unpredictable. LeBeouf (Nymphomaniac Vol. I) is perhaps the one cast member that delivers above and beyond what you'd expect, playing a particularly jaded gunner whose eyes have seen too much death and despair to register a sparkle anymore, and who maintains a devout faith in his religious teachings despite all of the killing he does all day and night. Michael Pena (Frontera) and Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street) chip in with their usual stalwart supporting efforts.
Though the story is, at least halfway, shot within the claustrophobic confines of a Sherman tank, Ayer does a good job making the events of the film feel epic in scope and exciting when battles to break out. Ayer depicts the war scenario as oppressively grisly and without much happiness, as the value of life is greatly diminished to the point where people will sacrifice their honor for something as otherwise inconsequential as a candy bar, because they don't know if they will live another day. Though we only follow these men over the course of a day, we can see how they are broken down badly to only their instincts to survive, battered physically, mentally and emotionally to a perpetual state of numbness all around.
In the middle of this great war epic, there is an extended, more quiet scene in which Wardaddy and Norman enter the apartment inhabited by a couple of German women, one older and one younger. Though the scene is slow and quiet, it becomes one of the most intense scenes of the film, as we are so nervous about how Sgt. Collier is going to react to seeing this beautiful yet innocent girl, that we begin to fear for their safety and humanity. It's a rare scene in a modern movie built on action to have, and demonstrates quite well how these heroes have lost their sense of right and wrong through the dehumanizing course of perpetual killing and bloodshed. An earlier scene in which Wardaddy forces, in a hands-on-fashion Norman to shoot a begging enemy soldier in cold blood is particularly harrowing and disturbing, but sets the proper contrast for the characters in the story that follows.
It also goes to show how soldiers who don't particularly like one another can often find a way to both hate and love one another, coming to rely on their fellow comrades for protection of life against a vicious enemy, but also seeing them falter and engage in despicable acts that cannot be easily forgiven. But in a world full of unspeakably evil acts, morality is relative. Killing a defenseless German soldier can seem like a heartbreakingly cruel act, but when that soldier is an SS who is likely responsible for the killing of many innocent men, women and children, there is a sense of justice for the perpetrators of that murder. It's truly an amoral arena where right and wrong is being determined by those whose mental compass can't find the right path any longer.
Fury is a fierce, sensationalized action flick at its core, not meant to be a completely realistic portrayal, but, in the moment, it feels raw and authentic, which means Ayer has done his job well. In an in-your-face visceral way, he depicts fighting in a battle as a maddening, depraved and filthy existence without many moments of respite to the repugnance of bloody conflict. It's as disturbing and yet still exhilarating look at war that shocks and excites in seemingly equal measure, as we hope for a successful mission for these men we've come to admire and despise, mostly because, in the way Ayer shoots this potent piece, we've been riding as passive passenger, white knuckled, inside this tank with them all along.
©2014 Vince Leo