MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: War Drama/ Stars: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs, Brad Henke, Jim Parrack, Xavier Samuel, Scott Eastwood, Kevin Vance, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg/ Runtime: 135 minutes
I think it is safe to say that the genre of film known as war has seen quite the development and change through the history of film. Indeed even though the iconic anti-combat movie has been around since the dawn of cinema, see 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front for example, there has still be a clearly showcased arc in cinema that has resulted in the war genre consistently evolving to meet the times it’s a part of. Indeed as we can see, the era following the Second World War came with a group of films that had a patriotism attached which, while not exactly cheering on the idea of combat, did give it a more gung-ho appeal not to mention it was severely watered down though given that World War 2 was the bloodiest global conflict to date that makes sense. However, in the aftermath of the “conflict” that occurred in Vietnam (draw your own conclusions) celebrated film helmers like Kubrick and Stone decided to showcase how war was draining to both a person as well as their sense of humanity which wasn’t too surprising when you factor in the public outcry about Vietnam at that time and to this very day in certain circles. From there things shifted again with the release of Saving Private Ryan in the late 90s as this was the film that many see as the frontrunner for our current stream of gritty and quite potent and realistic war films that don’t applaud or spit on war, but rather make you feel like you are in the combat zone with these men and thus get you as close as you may like to the devastation that war can bring to an individual.
However, in the year 2014, scribe/ film helmer David Ayer released a movie called Fury and this once again makes for a clear and obvious distinction in the storied legacy of war being portrayed in cinema. Indeed this riveting narrative of a tank crew deep in Germany near the end of the conflict in Europe is not just a riveting and quite realistic violent movie, but one that also goes a degree further than the vast majority of war films that have come before it. Indeed this is a film that shows us a world where there are no heroes with rows of medals, but rather people who are there to just “do a job”, a “job” that incidentally has also resulted in them being deadened to nearly everything with the exception of the blood running through their veins as well as those who share the inside of their tank with them. Indeed these are men who have had their humanity vastly annihilated to say nothing of the damage done to both their heart and their soul. I mean at this point the only thing that seems to keep them going day to day is just a strong and overwhelming desire to live, which in order to do so requires them to destroy other people who have been destroyed in the same areas as themselves. Indeed be it in the heat of a skirmish with bullets and bombs going off all around them or in a moment of calm, the conflict of which they are a part still eats away at them in the hopes that it’ll at long last take away all of their humanity. Yes in this film, war can exact quite the heavy price on a human being, but as the movie also will show you it also has another effect in that it can also bring people closer together in a iron belly that is equal parts plated armor and explosive gunpowder and find as a unit what they have otherwise had eroded from them on their own.
The plot is as follows: Fury takes us back to the far gone time period known as the waning days of World War 2 and drops us right in the thick of things as we see that, in the aftermath of a particularly rough skirmish, a Sherman tank crew that’s been together through many battles in this long and bloody war, has just lost one of its key members. Adding further insult to this grievous injury however is the quick and sudden arrival of said member’s replacement who takes the form of a young daisy-fresh typist of all things by the name of Norman Ellison whose time in a tank is equal to the amount of times it looks like the kid has picked up a razor and shaved: absolutely nada. Suffice it to say then that the remainder of the veteran tank crew consisting of team leader Don Collier, and teammates Boyd, Gordo, and Grady is not exactly thrilled to have this probie in the midst due to their fear that his complete and utter lack of experience will get them killed. Finding themselves saddled with him however, we soon witness as our intrepid group of heroes take part in several skirmishes with the enemy all the while heading deeper and deeper into Germany where they soon find themselves learning firsthand that as much as they want the war to be over, it won’t be for a while to come, and until then, a whole lot more people both combatant and innocent alike are going to have to pay the bill for it…
Now the core narrative I feel you should know is one that isn’t really the most unique in the world. Indeed this is a film that thrives off the “newbie” sort of narrative that involves a fresh from the world rookie against a group of seasoned professionals who have been around for a while. Yet it is what this film does with that time-honored dynamic that makes it distinct and unique. Indeed instead of simply operating as a generic way to showcase a dramatic vibe in between the moments of conflict, it instead is a key factor in molding just what this film has to say about the most horrific loss a man can endure in conflict: his soul. Indeed Norman has literally no idea about what he’s about to get himself into when he first walks up to the tank and neither for that matter do his squad mates comprehend him. This is because he still has his humanity in full while theirs has mostly corroded away. Thus even though they hail from the same country and wear the same uniform, they couldn’t be more unalike. This is because conflict has taken these men and made them immune to anything except the bond they have with each other and their shared interest in staying alive, a task that requires not only all of them working in synchronicity, but also being in the same emotionless void where the only thing that matters is moving on and killing as much of the enemy as possible. Thus, due to the upheaval of that equilibrium by Norman’s arrival, the only question that matters to these men is if Norman will get them slaughtered, if they will annihilate him, or if his soul will do what it needs to and make the transition from a party of one to being one with both the tank and his new squad mates.
Thus for the soldiers in this film, the titular tank also functions as a representation for the only safe place that they know despite the fact that it is a tool designed both to annihilate and quite likely be annihilated in. It is, for all intents and purposes both a womb and a tomb for these men. Indeed even as the conflict or for these men what they have been through together in that tank has all but scrubbed away their humanity, it is intriguingly inside the tank itself where they are able to find it again through backing each other up and fighting for something far more significant than their lives and comprehending that to have a life away from the tank would be perhaps worse than dying inside it. Indeed it really has become quite the fixture in their day to day lives right down to the delightful odors of gunpowder, tank exhaust, and carnage. Yet the key to understanding this isn’t in any sequence inside the tank, but rather during the middle of the film. In essence we see that after taking back a town from the Nazis, the team decides to leave the tank to celebrate which sees Norman and Don making themselves welcome in the home of a woman and her younger cousin only to have a highly intoxicated Grady, Trini, and Boyd crash the party and be as rude as all get out and have their comradery with one another all but gone despite only being a few feet away from the tank. Yet for these men they are in a whole other galaxy away from the manners and finesse that they should rightfully be showing in this situation though they have no problem doing so in the tank. Indeed this sequence in the film to me is what really makes the film since it, more than any moment of conflict, is the one which really strengthens and underlines the idea that life in the tank, as sad as it may be, is all these men have left in their lives at the moment.
Now the potency of the film to say nothing of its thought-provoking analysis of combat through the perspective of those who engage in it is most definitely brilliant, but so too are the critical supporting ingredients which help to really make this film a winner. For starters this is a film that serves as a technical astonishment where every bullet and shell that is fired, every bit of muck that is stirred up, and every person that is slaughtered is an orchestra of realistic horror which only manages to highlight the more immersive and pitch-black concepts at the heart of the story. Indeed this is a film that utilizes 98% practical effects work, and actually utilizes genuine World War 2 tanks for nearly every purpose except their decimation which required the services, understandably, of replicas. Yet beyond the tracer fire, the shells bouncing off, and perhaps even a bit of smoke, every single ounce of the effects work looks real and as such gives the film the air of authenticity it so desperately needs. The performances in this film too it should be noted are also fantastic starting with Brad Pitt in the lead role of tank commander Don “Wardaddy” Collier. Indeed Pitt who at times has been looked at by other individuals as someone who has only been successful due to how handsome he is rather than any genuine acting ability, most certainly should put those naysayers to rest here as he manages to do a phenomenal job of both constructing and then playing a man who despite being completely zeroed in on the job of both annihilating the enemy whilst also keeping himself and his crew alive on the outside, is a much more complex man on the inside. We also get impressive work from Logan Lerman as Norman aka the newbie whose initiation into this world of chaos and bloodshed is at the heart of both the narrative and the themes at play in equal measure. Indeed Lerman manages to do a wonderful job of taking on this role with a style that is equal parts complete and graceful with a purpose and as such gives us one of the finer performances in a war film in the last decade. Yes I guess it should also be noted that as their squad mates Pena, LaBeouf, and Bernthal all also do exemplary work in this, but you see dear reader, the film hinges to a significant degree on Pitt and Lerman’s performances in this and as such they are absolute aces.
All in all Fury is an outstanding movie that, perhaps better than the vast majority of films that have preceded it, manages to showcase the horrors of combat from the inside out. Indeed this is a film that is graphic on both a pathos and a carnage level, and is difficult to sit through due to also being a riveting analysis of how while mankind is busy destroying each other, he is also destroying himself. Indeed with a narrative this solid, work in the visual department this phenomenal, and performances this top-notch it is baffling to me that Fury received absolutely zero Oscar nods in the contender’s list for 2014. I mean at the very least it should have gotten one for its visual work, but it also should’ve gotten at the very least Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, and film helmer David Ayer recognition for their terrific work. Nevertheless, the Academy may have failed to recognize this movie, but at the very least this film will certainly always be seen by this reviewer as one of the finest films that the latter half of 2014 ever chose to give us. On a scale of 1-5 I give Fury a solid 4 out of 5.