Columbia/QED Ent. (2014) 134 min. R
Director: David Ayer Screenplay: David Ayer
Cinematography: Roman Vasyanov; Editing: Jay Cassidy & Dody Dorn
Production Design: Andrew Menzies; Set Decoration: Lee Gordon & Malcolm Stone; Costumes: Anna B. Sheppard & Owen Thornton; Score: Steven Price
Stars: Brad Pitt (Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier), Shia LaBeouf (Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan), Logan Lerman (Norman Ellison), Michael Peña (Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia), Jon Bernthal (Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis), Alicia von Rittberg (Emma), Jason Isaacs (Cpt. Waggoner), Jim Parrack (Sgt. Binkowski), Anamaria Marinca (Irma), Brad William Henke (Sgt. Davis), Xavier Samuel (Lieutenant Parker), Kevin Vance (Sgt. Peterson), Scott Eastwood (Sgt. Miles)
In the final stages of WWII, the five-man 66th Armored Tank Regiment commanded by U.S. Army staff Sgt. Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) must contend with a shaky new recruit, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), whose general inexperience in combat and attempts to observe the social graces even in the war zone make him an easy target among this uncouth company of grizzled vets. Yet his presence awakens Collier’s finer nature, making him aware of how dehumanized he’s become, driving a wedge between him and his equally volatile, desensitized men.
Director-writer David Ayer’s deeply felt war drama is the sort of philosophically confused film that starts out to be one thing and then gets its head turned completely around, ending up facing in the opposite direction. Initially he tells us that war makes beasts of all men by showing how badly our boys behaved even during the course of a just war we were winning, but then goes a ways toward arguing that those same jungle instincts are crucial survival skills that should be honed and developed if soldiers are to effectively engage in combat.
From the title, one would have every right to expect that Fury might have something to do with the irrational rage pulled out of otherwise sane people in wartime, and indeed it begins along those lines, by focusing on the Americans’ unreasoning hatred of all things German. They want to punish the entire country for everything they’ve been put through, to see its people suffer and, as spoils of war, rank looting and rape at the top of the bucket list of reparations. They get a kick out of pillaging the country because they want to wipe its culture off the face of the earth, leaving a swath of destruction in the wake of their Sherman tanks the way Sherman did on his march to the sea. To punch up the point we witness them demonstrably detonating a piano, that quintessential emblem of culture, right in the streets. The armored tanks plow everything under, rolling over rubble and bodies with equal aplomb. Early on, Fury shows us that what the soldiers are doing would never be tolerated under normal circumstances, and asks us to question if it’s justified, even against the morally vacuous Waflung SS, who Collier orders his men to shoot on sight, any notion of democratic due process be damned. Knowing what we do of the SS, we hate them as much as Collier does, but viewers are meant to ask themselves if that knowledge justifies torture and blanket execution of captured POWs. Such flagrant flaunting of human rights in times of war subtly reminds us of Guantanamo and our vengeance-bent, post-9/11 mentality. WWII has been conceptualized in very similar terms here, as a war of reprisal in the wake of Pearl Harbor in which we were driven to retaliation by our own fury at what had been done to us on American soil. Yet this pertinent theme is permitted to dissipate before it’s ever addressed at the conscious level.
Both of director Ayer’s grandparents were officers in WWII which likely drew him to conceive this material, as it had his WWII-set submarine thriller U-571. In addition, while a teenager Ayer spent much time on the troubled streets of South Central, L.A. which must have felt something like a war zone itself, and a similar theme of strangers in a strange land that turns hostile toward them can be traced through a surprising number of his other works, including the recent End of Watch, which dealt with cops who find themselves stranded in enemy territory and under assault from all sides. Besides directing, Ayer has written such hard-pounding, testosterone-fueled films as Training Day and The Fast and the Furious. His next announced project is Suicide Squad, which seems apt considering the ending of Fury.
In the 1936 Hollywood classic of the same name, directed by German émigré Fritz Lang, who came to America fleeing the rise of Nazism in his fatherland, a stranger traveling through the South is nearly burned alive by a lynch mob for a crime he didn’t commit. His obsessive, vigilant-style pursuit of justice is very similar to the motivations of the vengeance-bent soldiers in Fury. But in Lang’s film, being blinded by such hatred ended up making his protagonist seem as inhumane as the baying for blood crowd he relentlessly persecuted. Our low opinion of these army privates is colored in much the same fashion, at least at the beginning. A point is made of showing American soldiers abusing their power in Europe, flagrantly defying any sense of the Geneva Convention by torturing their already bruised and battered POWs when not executing them outright, as well as running roughshod over the local citizenry. In the heart of enemy territory, surrounded, harassed, assaulted and in constant fear for their lives they’ve learned not to trust anyone. And because we aren’t sure what they’re capable of any longer, this is a rare instance where we find ourselves just as scared of our own hotheaded GIs with their lack of impulse control as the people they’re supposed to be liberating. Rather than considering them saviors, the citizenry of the towns they occupy view them the same way they would any other undisciplined, occupying enemy force not accountable to anyone for their actions. Our soldiers accord the locals demeaning treatment and depicting them behaving this way toward fellow whites rather than the ethnic foreign hordes of Asia Minor or the Middle East is meant to make viewers more starkly aware of the inhumanity.
We’ve been so seduced by the romantic notion that WWII was a ‘justified’ war, that we were stopping the poisonous spread of fascism and saving the Jews, it’s meant to be startling to see our boys behaving as abominably as American soldiers are shown doing in movies about Vietnam, like Casualties of War and Platoon. They’re shown desecrating the corpses for valuable trinkets, picking over the bones like vultures in a dishonorable manner more suited to camp followers. They’re not too far removed from those starving German peasants we see carving up the fallen draft horse for dinner. All that’s missing is evidence that they also indulged in some of the Nazi’s own anti-Semitic behavior, which would’ve cut deep considering four of Fury’s own leads (Lerman, Shia Lebouf, Jon Bernthal and Jason Isaacs) are played by Jewish actors. This unusual casting coup may be a movie milestone, though nothing meaningful is made of it, the way it was those vengeance bent Jewish GIs in Inglorious Basterds or Saving Private Ryan, who were out to avenge their persecuted people.
As tempting as it is to look back with rose-tinted glasses after the fact, the nature of war itself seems to bring out the beast in men. “Ideals are peaceful,” Collier assures us, while the reality of “History is violent.” In the moment even our morally vindicated Victory over Europe seems as dirty, ugly and brutal as any other conflict. And given the odds they’re facing on the battlefield, our soldiers even find it hard to believe the Allies are winning this war. In the film’s most heartfelt comment on war’s annihilation of natural beauty, when Pitt removes his shirt his back is seen to be scarred with third degree burns, as if the deep gouges in his grill hadn’t done him damage enough. Modern actors love being given the chance to play their great grandfathers, embodying an earlier generation’s idea of machismo, but though the cast is extensive it’s startling how few players actually sharpen into focus beyond the leads. Brad Pitt has returned to his Inglorious Basterds persona, only this time he’s playing it straight, in other words sans the Clark Gable stache, though he does have a similar way of enunciating certain syllables which makes it sound as if he were doing a pseudo-Patton impersonation. He seems to have lost the humor (always Pitt’s best quality) of his little Basterd too, but he does have some funny, disingenuous moments that are entirely unintentional such as when he spins around in the tank’s gunner turret while lecturing Norman about standing in the way of his mission to keep the men safe.
His character’s contrasting nature is succinctly expressed upon his intro. When Collier’s regiment returns from the front, the only surviving tank, he tells his surprised command who had written him off for dead that the Devil watches over his own and this self-assessment reveals the sort of person he believes he’s become. He can ambush an SS officer, stabbing him in the eye, then gently pat his now riderless horse, soothing the spooked animal. Its pure white color symbolizes the innocence he mourns having lost in himself and will soon see again in fresh recruit Norman. We never find out precisely where Collier learned to speak such fluent German, anymore than we discover how his back got burned and his face lacerated with scars, but it’s telling that at some point he respected the culture he’s now committed to destroying enough to learn the language, which is more than his character ever did in Babel. Genteel, sensitive Norman reads, plays piano, tries to preserve the common courtesies, which is what sets him apart in Collier’s eyes from the other soldiers who are single-minded in their one desire to destroy. Given his sloping profile which makes him look nearly Paleolithic, a caveman Jim Caviezel, Collier calls company mechanic Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal) an animal and kicks him, with the explanation that the fist and the boot is all an animal can understand. Such unflattering descriptions will later be borne out after Collier stumbles across Emma (Alicia von Rittberg), a young German kept hidden by her cousin Irma (Anamaria Marinca) to protect her from the rampaging soldiers, and orders Norman to lock the door. Based on what we’ve seen heretofore we can entertain only the worst suspicions about how he’ll punish the girls for lying that there wasn’t anyone else in the apartment. Played by the film’s star, division leader Collier can’t be seen sinking to the same level as the common soldiers, but in the movie’s most disturbing scene, he comes perilously close.
Though the element of physical violence is not present, when Collier claims he’ll take the girl to bed if Norman doesn’t, it’s not as if either kid were being given a choice in the matter. Collier knows the only thing that could motivate his virginal subordinate is the thought that he’s saving the girl from a fate worse than death. Acting on this ultimatum, Fury irresponsibly takes what qualifies as rape more or less, for a magnanimous, character-building act on the part of Collier, both parties appearing equally complicit despite the gun at their head. It then adds insult to injury by having the pair fall deeply in love, with Norman romantically reading Emma’s palm, her heart line indicating she’ll only have one great love her entire life long, which isn’t surprising considering it’s cut so short. Though the men assure Norman that any German girl would willingly sell her body for a chocolate bar, Fury depicts rape as a catalyst for eternal and abiding love, while our minds drift to horror tales of the treatment accorded women accused of collaborating with the enemy after the war. Emma on the other hand is romanticized for what could be construed in the same light. It’s a thin line, dependent on which side one falls in the victor’s wake.
Wide-eyed, idealistic Norman’s still untrammeled civility prompts lost soul Collier to assess for the first time in years what war has done to him, and serves to drive a wedge between him and the other men under his command who recognize and accept themselves for the animals they’ve become. When his uncivilized soldiers hunt the two down and barge into the girls’ apartment, ruining Collier’s attempt at a civilized meal in the midst of the chaotic madness, they behave at the table as if they’d been raised in a barn. Acting like primitives who have never encountered the refinements of modern culture, the self-mocking Garcia (played by Michael Peña, from director Ayer’s End of Watch) is wearing a top hat and tone-deaf Travis savagely pounds away at the same piano on which Norman and Emma had made beautiful music together just minutes before. Defiant Swan (Shia LaBeouf) even engages in that most ill-mannered of acts, eating his food with his fingers, openly mocking Collier’s genteel pretensions, which they believe make him feel superior to them.
This communal band of brothers find their commander’s been holding out on them, saving the best rations for himself, and accuse him of eating like royalty, implying that he looks down on them as peasants. Questioning, innocently at first, why they weren’t invited to this classy affair despite everything they’ve been through together (a hair-raising story is related about them having to put down a contingent of war horses, as if they were stopping the screaming of the lambs), pain, anger, betrayal and yes fury is written on each man’s face as it slowly dawns on them exactly what is going on, that Collier doesn’t consider them good enough for such fine dining. To him their calloused natures have left them fit only for the killing fields. He doesn’t regard these ‘fine gentlemen’ as being in the same class as sensitive Norman and in their blind rage they go out of their way to prove him right. This devastating scene with its mounting tensions is the best thing in the picture, with a scary element of short, explosive violence coursing just below the surface, barely restrained rage one doesn’t often see outside the films of Scorsese and Tarantino threatening to burst forth.
As Norman, Logan Lerman is at the same place in his career as co-star Shia Lebouf was a few years back when he was supporting Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones 4 and Michael Douglas in Wall Street 2, a former child actor trying to prove himself capable of segueing into more adult parts with a transitional role that allows him to play off both images at once. An innocent initially, he’s meant to serve as our proxy, thrown into the midst of this hell on earth in order to be disillusioned and corrupted by the bad influence of his low company, and hardened by what he’s forced to endure. He may as well be journeying into the heart of darkness like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now.
The Nazi’s are damned for having mobilized children in a last-ditch effort to turn the tide of war, but then the movie shows that the Allies have resorted to doing the exact same thing despite being on the winning side, appointing a young sergeant who ‘hasn’t started shaving’ yet over Collier’s seasoned unit of vets and sending untrained clerk typist Norman to the front to serve as their driver. It’s like that segment near the end of All Quiet on the Western Front, when young Lew Ayres (no relation to Fury’s director) returns to the field after furlough and finds his unit populated by schoolboys half his age to replace the first generation of soldiers wiped out in the fighting. The tank division’s journey into the garrisoned German town is flanked by the hung bodies of children who refused to fight for Der Füehrer, now decorated with placards declaring them cowards, and those conscripts who do, boys and girls alike, appear to run as young as grammar school when herded out of hiding.
When members of the Hitler Youth attack the tanks on the road, Norman chokes upon spotting one in the bushes because he doesn’t appear much older than Norman is himself. It’s the same reason John Gilbert couldn’t knife that young Hun he got pinioned in a shell hole with in the granddaddy of all war movies, The Big Parade. Norman’s momentary hesitation gives the enemy just enough time to hurl a flaming cocktail into the vehicle ahead of his unit, prompting Collier to give the green recruit a tongue lashing worthy of George C. Scott for not taking the shot, pointing out the still burning soldier who emerged from the tank in flames with “see what kids can do.”
It’s questionable why top army brass would replace Collier’s tank driver with such an inexperienced baby if they weren’t genuinely desperate for replacements, but for purposes of plot it’s a contrivance that allows this character named after cinema’s most famous mama’s boy to become a man in traditional movie fashion. There’s a rite of passage theme buried at the heart of most war movies and Norman’s story serves as Fury’s, while allowing Pitt as ‘Wardaddy’ Collier to play a more paternal part, proving what a good father he can be, even down to making sure his new boy keeps up his strength by eating something. While his brothers in arms are seen forcing alcohol on Norman, Collier tries to raise him right, toughening him up so he’s not so out of his depth among the battle-scarred vets. The Nazis may turn these kids into killers, but Collier is justified for doing much the same, forcing Norman to become a cold-blooded killer against his will by executing a captured enemy so it will be easier for him to kill Krauts later. Forcibly popping his cherry in this way, on the pretext that he needs to be sure he’ll be able to perform when it counts, takes the phrase ‘gun shy’ to a whole new level.
Their scuffle in front of the scoffing company, when he shoves the gun into Norman’s hand and squeezes the trigger, is supposed to make a man of him as surely as forcing him to bed Emma was, but his rattled behavior would indicate different, Norman refuting the hard lesson he was meant to learn by claiming his conscience is still clean. Already adapting valuable survival skills, he tells Collier what he thinks he wants to hear, that it ‘weren’t nothing’ to kill, that he ‘kind of liked it,’ feigning to hold human life in as low regard as everyone else seems to. But Collier sees through the charade, gaining a better perspective of and finer appreciation for Norman because of it. Our own feelings about this scene, Norman being ‘punished’ by shooting a German soldier in reprisal for the one he couldn’t as if they were all interchangeable, are clouded by the movie’s subsequent assertion that the tough love worked wonders.
Norman is initially shown zeroing in on his targets with discrimination, committing a mercy killing for instance by mowing down the burning Nazis his fellow soldiers want to see suffer. After the death of the fräulein who made a man of him however, all bets are off and he becomes just as bloodthirsty, vengeance-bent, full of fury as the most hardened vet, indiscriminately shooting every enemy soldier in his sights while rattling off the mantra “f*ckn’ Nazis!” like a madman, the wild look in his freakishly clear, icy eyes even more unsettling than usual. This insane behavior earns him the respect of his fellow soldiers and a nickname that indicates the successful suppression of his better nature and evolution into a well-oiled, unemotional killing ‘Machine.’ It’s not unlike the army method of turning nice, clean-cut boys into soldiers by breaking down their reserves and destroying their free will until they obey reflexively, unthinkingly. If the enemies weren’t all conveniently stereotyped SS officers and Norman’s same murderous mantra were applied more broadly, to other U.S. wars, the questionable ethos of writer-director Ayer would be more apparent.
Nazis seem the only safe war villains these days, the only ones whose patent demonization doesn’t court controversy. Here, the faceless enemy seems committed to fighting to the death and when they can’t do that, turning the gun on themselves. The only good one is a dead one. Nazis were depicted more humanely by Hollywood propaganda films of the 40’s. As that contingent of German troops ominously marches the men’s way at the end, they might be chanting the theme from The Omen. We’re told that the German soldiers want to surrender, that they know that the war is over for them, but the movie neglects to show us any evidence of such good faith, so we don’t get to see how irrational our soldiers’ ongoing persecution of them actually is. Instead the movie maneuvers its way into eventually exonerating our army, proving them fully justified in their irate actions. Having begun interrogating our soldiers’ morality for taking it upon themselves to play judge, jury and executioner, Fury ends up glorifying Norman for doing precisely that.
Norman survives by a ploy that would probably have been deemed cowardice in the movies made for the WWII generation, hiding beneath the tank while his comrades are being killed all around him. Instead the rescuing army calls him hero, though as he’d confided to Collier he would’ve surrendered just as easily if the option had presented itself, an inclination his commander tells him not to cave in to whatever he does, not because he considers it weakness but because “they’ll hurt you real bad; kill you real bad.” He should know whereof he speaks considering how poorly our ‘heroes’ have themselves been shown treating their own captured POWs. From this, we’re meant to have derived the impression that Norman wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance among truly dissipated enemy soldiers. But the ending of Fury refutes the lesson he’s learned that kids with guns kill and should be considered as lethal as any other soldier in wartime, when a young Nazi ensign who comes across him hiding beneath the tank silently moves on rather than revealing his whereabouts. When the shoe is on the other foot, the movie sentimentalizes this serviceman for doing precisely what Collier had impressed upon Norman never to do, let an enemy soldier live because he looks like a harmless boy. If there’s anything worse than a message movie, it’s a mixed message movie.
Rather than following through with the hackles it raises, Fury simply rolls along, barreling toward its hyped up, crash-bang-boom climax in the absence of any well-shaped dramatic structure, but considering that the onslaught shot by Roman Vasyanov never ceases, there are some memorable action moments along the way. The rescue mission to relieve the soldiers pinioned down in an open field for instance, who roll over and follow along behind the American tanks as they pass by, has been tautly edited by Jay Cassidy & Dody Dorn. The whizzing bullets have the consistency of light saber lasers and we’re in constant fear that the tank drivers will overlook some of the men flattened low against the ground, out of their line of sight, and run them over by accident. When our reinforcements encounter the monster German anti-tank Tiger I, and are slowly picked off one by one until only Collier’s regiment is left standing, it’s a primeval demolition derby, a chickie run between two armored rhinos. Working as a unit against this anti-tank, trial by fire is the only thing that could bond Collier’s men after their falling out, or make them accept Norman as one of their own.
Left alone in enemy territory, their disabled tank the last one standing at the end as it was at the beginning, suddenly we’re watching Rio Bravo reset in WWII, as Collier’s woefully outnumbered regiment (five against three hundred) makes a desperate final stand against the enemy. As in that movie, memories of the Alamo are meant to be invoked indirectly here, by the presence of Garcia who is instructed to speak American and to join the Mexican army if he wants to speak Spanish. The German officer at the end rallies his troops by reminding them it’s their land the American’s are entrenching themselves upon; as Collier acknowledges, having started killing Krauts in North Africa, he’s now killing Germans on their own soil. Since it seems to take forever for the marching column to arrive, Collier’s company has the chance to pluck a page from Beau Geste as well, deceptively arranging the fallen dead bodies on the scene in a way meant to draw the enemy into firing range.
Maneuvering to defend their post, the men refuse to abandon the tank that gave its name to the title, treating it like another character in the story though the director has neglected to give it a personality of its own. More than likely it was meant to encapsulate the men’s one central emotion, their unslaked fury and thirst for vengeance which has turned them into savage, single-minded brutes. Though surely their holding pattern could never have been anything more than a temporary stalling maneuver, one is almost inclined to believe that there’s sense to this last stand, to Collier’s claim that they’re the rock to break the wave coming in at that crossroads of decision, and that nothing can destroy this impervious tank that has proven to be the sole survivor of two separate missions. So we can understand why the men stay, even after he tells them it’s a’ight to desert. The vets inform newbie Norman that Collier has kept the company together, which is why they feel such loyalty to him and betrayed by the fact that he should throw them over for the unproven raw recruit he takes under his wing. It’s why Norman himself will eventually prove his unflagging devotion by saying he’s going to stay and see their desperate suicide mission through.
The men are loyal to Collier for having kept them safe, even at the expense of his own humanity, so the only explanation for his choosing to lead them directly into this death trap now is because he knows they don’t belong among the living, that there’s no longer any place for them in civilized society after what they’ve been through. Emotionally numb and deadened inside, they feel numbered among the casualties already. With Travis played by Jon Bernthal from AMC’s The Walking Dead, the movie’s schematics become clear. The Nazi bombardment of the tank at the end is played like a zombie assault out of Night of the Living Dead with the beleaguered party trapped and besieged in their safe haven being picked off one by one. Brad Pitt has rewound his World War Z all the way back to WWII and only the costumes seem to have changed. Collier had silenced Irma’s objections to Norman sleeping with her cousin by telling her that these kids are still young and alive, indication of how he sees himself and everyone else who’s been exposed to the prolonged horrors of war. He knows that Norman, the only member of his troop still young enough to respond to the beauty in life rather than its brutality, has a chance at a happy, fulfilling life, which is why he survives the war when they don’t. The movie treats these WWII soldiers the same way Westerns used to treat the aging gunslinger that wanted to reform but knew he was too sullied by past violence to be admitted into the emerging civilization. Shepherding Norman through with his soul intact is supposed to be Collier’s final act of redemption, but how are we supposed to believe Norman too has not been tarnished, considering the relish he’d earlier displayed while gunning down Nazis? The film leaves us with a God’s eye view of the deserted tank at the intersection of that crossroads, tattered bodies scattered about like toy soldiers, and we can only assume by finally abandoning it at the end, he is meant to be leaving his fury behind in that fallow field as well.
The repeated line about this being “The best job I ever had,” which is said sarcastically at first then meant to take on a veneer of honest appreciation, was apparently intended as a catchphrase to be reiterated picture-long, but it’s not used consistently enough for us to really care when it crops back up at the end (the humorous line Norman shouts whenever machine-gunning Nazis sticks in our minds more sharply.) Also, having subtitled German exposition play over the combat scenes cheapens the effect. These interjections seem embarrassingly clichéd since they allow the enemy to reveal their own tactical weaknesses to us. It takes the thrill out to have them giving away their strategies. The camera jumps so indiscriminately between the insides of the tank and the action outside there’s no sense of claustrophobia, though the way the men’s experiences are built up (it begins with them trying to keep absolutely still with Swan quietly peeing in a tin can for fear of being detected by the Germans prowling about), Fury gives every indication that it started out to be an epic of tank warfare on the scale of Das Boot, with the servicemen trapped inside the hollow tin can that’s become their second home. Taking such a tack wouldn’t have been surprising considering that director Ayer, a former U.S. Navy sailor, is familiar with the milieu in the wake of the submarine-set U-157 and his as yet unproduced Squids, another submarine thriller.
Fury flips back and forth, trying to convince us that war is hell and kills the soul, then expects us to accept its depiction of the greatest generation as courageous heroes fighting a just cause. Norman’s presence eventually forces all the men of Collier’s company to reclaim some measure of their lost ideals, to remember the reason they enlisted in the first place. Hostile Travis even admits that he thinks Norman is a good man even if they, sullied and corrupted, no longer are. Still, by Fury’s end they’ve manage to become the sort of heroes their uniforms warrant, spiritually redeeming themselves through their self-sacrifice, proving with this final gallant gesture that they had miraculously managed to save some measure of their own humanity. Quoting scripture (“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying: Whom shall I send and who will go for Us? And… I said: Here am I, send me.” – Isaiah, Ch. 6), Swan’s words sanctify. “What we’re doing is a righteous act,” he confirms assuring us that they’re fighting on the side of the angels as they shuffle off this mortal coil, each martyr’s death accorded its own moment of mourning. Soldiers are always convinced the Good Lord is fighting on their side regardless of what army they’re in. Fury clinches it for them.
Pitt’s Basterds mustache seems to have crept onto the face of Shia Lebouf, who’s attempting a serious characterization here with his bespectacled, bible-thumping, Southern Baptist Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan, boasting a shell-shocked foot that shakes uncontrollably with nerves whenever he peddles the tank into enemy fire and an accent which rivals Pitt’s own wacky line readings, especially at the end, with his understandable expression of disbelief (Sto-o-op! What ‘r you doing?”). Wanting to prove that he is still a bankable commodity as an actor and put all the bad press behind him (which showering during shooting would’ve helped) he grasps at the more matured, centered gravitas the role affords him as though it were a chance at redemption. His Swan, who asks new recruit Norman if he’s saved, claims that their regiment is the instrument of divine providence not the hand, while everyone else is being called to glory, leaving only their tank standing.
War movies find clever and creative ways to kill off their casts with the same enthusiasm as horror films, but the intention is to make us mourn the waste where chillers cheapen life with their clever thrill kills, treating humans like ducks in a shooting gallery. For its part, Fury wants to compete with the level of carnage on display in the opening Omaha Beach scene of Saving Private Ryan, which set the bar pretty high. Spielberg’s movie also consisted of an undermanned odyssey through enemy territory capped by a last stand by the survivors at the end, but Fury depicts some less common atrocities, such as tanks crushing the bobble heads of soldiers as they roll over their trench, the skinned face of the unit’s former driver (the only glimpse we’re given of him) discovered inside the tank, legs being cut out from under soldiers by enemy artillery, the old man who innocently points out where the soldiers are hiding and is instantly shot through the head from a distance.
Soon we begin to feel as desensitized as the callous veterans to whom such sights are an everyday occurrence. The questionable impact of shoot-‘em-ups like Fury is that they whip viewers up into their own frenzy of blood lust. Though their deaths are a foregone conclusion, we want to see these soldiers get out of their impossible predicament so badly an unexpected fury is aroused in us, tantamount to the one the movie sanctions in them. We find ourselves rooting for our boys to kill them all and if a rifle was within arm’s reach we might even feel inclined to help them out a little. Like Saving Private Ryan, Fury is an anti-war movie that ends up glorifying war, so even at the end you still might not be 100% sure what precisely the purpose of it all was, might be left asking the same question Norman does early on, “Why are you showing me this?”
One thought on “Fury”
PITT’s about 15 years too old for GQ does WWII.
WWII itself has been DONE to DEATH.
Meanwhile, franchise slum Hollywood BURIED without a TRACE
the now awesomely relevant, 21st century DEFINING, yet unfolding