Director David Ayer Starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pëna, Jon Bernthal
There are only so many ways you can tell a story. These days you have war movies, and you have World War II films, the latter has pretty much become a genre of its own, and it’s usually the same; the horrors of war and what they do to a person. Fury struggles along with this hindrance, but amazingly, at the same time, it’s found a new perspective. One day the creative juices will dry up and World War II flicks will be unprofitable, there are still some ways to tell these stories, and despite its shortcomings Fury is one of them.
Fury works because its focus is one that has been visited before but nowhere near as effectively. WWII is reduced to a setting; this is a story of the everyday men who became brothers in arms, the things they were confronted with, and the camaraderie that evolved. It can’t help but trip over the conventions of a WWII drama, which does hold it back, but it’s forgiven for lack of innovation by a lot of visual brilliance and a stellar cast portraying real men in an unreal situation so incredibly well that, after two hours, you truly believe in them.
They are the crew of an M4A3H8 Sherman tank during the final push into Germany. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pëna), and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) are a bunch of rag-tag hardened veteran’s, who have been commandeering their pride and joy, known as Fury, through front’s in France, Belgium, and North Africa. The opening scene, in which a surly Travis attempts to get the old tank moving while they all bicker with each other, highlights not only the brotherly bond they all have but the grisly circumstances under which that bond has endured.
After returning from battle, the only survivors of their battalion and missing one of their own, we’re introduced to Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a young and timid typist who’s been enlisted only eight weeks, has never seen combat or the inside of a tank. He’s small and clean, his fatigues don’t have a mark on them, a complete juxtaposition to the foul-mouthed and dirty crew of Fury, but what’s worse is he’s an outsider. After a very harsh run-down on what life inside Fury is like, and some tough questions from Swan about what a man is truly capable of, questions Ellison, forebodingly, doesn’t understand, he has to wipe away the mark left by his predecessor, all under the belief he’s not meant to be here.
The film moves along so quickly it never dragged nor felt anywhere near its 134-minute length as only fifteen minutes after reporting in, the crew of Fury are mobile again, this time to help evacuate soldiers pinned down in a field, but a moment of hesitancy by Ellison, who can’t help but cry with fear and doubt, proves costly. Seeing a man burning and knowing it’s his own doing, and the battle that occurs shortly after, is a life-changing moment, as, despite denying that he’s capable of this, though we all know by the end of this story he’ll get there, he can’t help but come to understand the crew of Fury, while it’s obvious Collier, who initially showed no faith and open disdain for Ellison, has now come to see him for the good person he really is. They allow him into the inner circle, slowly coming to accept Ellison, but Ellison still had doubts.
By this point the film had developed the characters as far as it was ever going to, there really was no other place to take them, while the story structure of talk, travel, kill, was set in stone, and wouldn’t change until the film’s last act. What does change is the imagery; what was bad before was now worse with scenes of hanging German civilians, marked as cowards, and a lone SS soldier’s flattened body in the mud, are stark reminders of how grim and bleak war really is. Destroying an enemy tank in a strategically advantageous German village, Ellison has a glimpse into an unknown world when he opens fire, something he enjoys. Then there’s this incredibly awkward scene, which I’m still debating whether or not was orchestrated correctly, in which Collier & Ellison enter the home of two German women, Irma (Anamaria Marinca) and her cousin Emma (Alicia von Rittberg). Collier calmly has the two women cook him breakfast, while Ellison and Emma somehow bond despite knowing each other only ten minutes and neither speaking the others language.
It really was a scene of two parts, as when Ellison sees what the war has done to Collier it leads to a better understanding of the veteran, whose abhorrent hatred of the SS had perplexed Ellison until now. But his brief moment of content acceptance abruptly ends when the rest of the crew barge their way in, drunk from victory celebrations, disrespecting Irma and Emma and causing a confrontation between Collier and his men that reminds them of a gruesome event in their history together that brings Swan, Garcia, and Travis to tears. Ellison can’t join them in this moment, back to being the outsider, but following an air-strike he finally shows he has some fight in him, and the lesson that no matter how much war hurts him he changes nothing, along his earlier actions, earn him the nickname “Machine”. He’s now one of them. The bond that these men shared had pulled me in so deeply I wasn’t so much concerned with where the film was headed but more what would happen to these people in the end.
Now to the closing stages of the film. Though it’d been the same formula so far, things change as Fury must defend a crossroads for a supply train to make it through. Their journey leads them to an encounter with a German Tiger I tank, a superior heavy artillery machine that Fury must go at alone. The representation of the clean-cut Tiger I, with far greater weaponry and armour, against the old warhorse in Fury, the tank that won’t quit, sums up the film perfectly. When Fury hits a landmine and is immobilised Collier refuses to leave it behind, though whether it’s due to the love of his ‘home’ or because he’s too proud to give up the fight is still up in the air. The stage is set for the final act.
There were audible sounds from the audience during the finale. You feel every bullet, every close call, all the explosions, and you grip your seat at every tense moment. When their ammunition runs out you’re counting the seconds, when the smoke grenades go off you’re just as blind, and you beg them not to leave the safety of the tank. When morning comes, and you see Fury stuck in the mud amongst the bodies of fallen SS troops, you finally let out that breath you’ve been holding the whole time, knowing those men left it all in that tank.
Brad Pitt was Brad Pitt. He’s a solid performer, and very capable as the lead of an ensemble, but at the end of the day there’s neither high nor low with him. He’ll be forever consistent. To his credit he played his role well, but a man with the reputation and notoriety of Don Collier, who openly disobeys command by taking a cigarette break after direct orders to ship out, just flies in the face of the idea of the everyday man that was a soldier in WWII.
Norman Ellison was the war from the audience’s perspective. He’s not seen the worst, he hasn’t even seen the “best”, and throughout the film he comes to understand, and in some moments actually relish, where he is and what he’s doing. But ultimately Ellison still can’t grip the concept. To him this war is completely foreign, but to the crew of Fury it’s their life, killing is a usual part of their day, and they see it as a job. Ellison can move onward and upward without Fury, albeit forever changed, but Collier, Swan, Garcia, and Travis would never be able to leave it behind, and they chose not to. Logan Lerman was great, he looked the part and I bought into his torment so deeply. His chemistry with the other actors involved pulled his performance up to their level, particularly his scene’s with Brad Pitt, and this film demonstrated just how far he’s come in such a short time as an actor.
Shia LaBeouf stole the show. The bible-belting Swan was so hard to read, and yet I could feel how the war had affected him and how much effort Swan put into staying strong, using his religion as a stabiliser. Jon Bernthal was interesting. He was let-down by how incomprehensible some of his dialogue was, thanks to the thick accent he put on, but the true strength of his performance shone through as we saw the best and worst of Grady Travis over the course of the film. The only actor I thought didn’t come to the party was Michael Pëna. At no point did he ever command screen presence like Pitt, Lerman, LaBeouf or Bernthal, he was just there. A good performer, but this is not one of his best.
The highlight of the acting wasn’t the individual’s, it was the group as a whole. I haven’t felt for characters for such a long time, as they grab you and don’t let go and you feel their emotion every step of the way. I really felt the chemistry and I rode every high and low with these men, wanting them to survive and come out stronger and unaffected more than ever. The actor’s worked together to make the end result better, undergoing boot camp training and actually spending time together living in a tank, and it was apparent on-screen. These people are filthy, covered in sweat, dirt, even blood, yet they continue on with unwavering optimism about their services as if, at the end of the war, it’ll all be worth it. How little they realise.
The Making Of
David Ayers hit the spot with Fury. War is dirty business, and this film shows it. They are not heroes, they’re ugly and dirty and they spend their days firing shells and killing Nazis. There was no lull in proceedings, the only questionable moment was the time Collier & Ellison spent alone in Irma’s and Emma’s home, but at no point did it drag or lose my interest, and I held onto my seat with every battle, as they were so well-choreographed, especially the Tiger I tank battle, which used the only working WWII Tiger tank still in existence.
The only real criticism is that the WWII film has been done. I can forgive it in favour of its strengths, but Ayers is treading over familiar ground and I think it’s time to move on. We’ve heard it all before; war has this necessary brutality, and the people involved are not here to question why, they’re here to do what is expected of them, even at the cost of their own innocence. It’s where they learn what they’re made of and it’s up to the individual to buy in. Hollywood’s depictions of war are shallow, as they would have you believe America and Germany were the only countries fighting, and Fury does fall into this trap, but luckily it doesn’t move into the full-blown American nationalism other war films are guilty of and instead finds another focus. This goes to Ayers, but in the end his talents as a director shone through and he did a very good job.
Fury is a good movie, well-directed with some great performances all round by a group of actors who really gel, but it does stick to the conventions of a genre of film that is well and truly done to death. Fury fell for this when it needn’t have, but it’s worth viewing as it isn’t just another war film in the very large bunch with a good story to tell. For those in need of some characters with depth, or maybe just big guns with explosions, Fury has it all, and while it hasn’t soared the dizzying heights of more acclaimed depictions of war, it’s a heavy film that runs you over and leaves you buried in the mud.
7 of 10